From White Noise, Loud Silence: Learning to Be Social / by Chel Wolverton

A very warm heartfelt thanks to Jon Swanson, who contributed to this post.  This post is cross posted to my hearing impairment blog at

2743081060_60ae839a48Socializing is a huge part of most childhoods. We invite friends for sleepovers, watch movies, play games, among other things. In early childhood we learn to converse with other children and make conversation. As we grow the conversation turns into more interesting and intelligent discussions about the world.

Some of us were extremely shy, couldn't talk and still have problems interacting with others as adults. One of my resolutions for the year is to open up, experience the world. Talk to people I wouldn't ordinarily, go to events I wouldn't ordinarily. Have fun, embrace being social.

Lots of people have this kind of resolution. But they are afraid that they won't understand the in jokes. They are afraid that they won't pick up on all the interactions that matter.

You know that feeling?

Now, imagine that you just can't hear the in jokes. You physically can't hear the in jokes.

That's my challenge.

Living with hearing loss sort of amplifies the shyness that I experience. To those of you that have seen my public presence at Podcamp Boston, that's when I have a mission. Inside I'm scared I won't hear that thing that makes everyone laugh or a question that needs an answer and it'll take me back to the childhood I despised.

One of the most common interactions I have involves not understanding what a person has said to me. They react--not knowing of the loss--by shaking their head, walking away or yelling as a way to get their point across.

However, there is also the reaction that someone grabs his podcasting microphone before getting on the road, hooks in the headphones, hands the headphones to me and puts the mic in the front so I can hear the conversation from the backseat.

Interacting with me sometimes requires patience. Most of the time, it's just as normal as having a conversation with a hearing person. Because I'm a person. Maybe not normal, but neither are you. That's why I want to get to know you.

As with any conversation, how you react to me influences how I react to you. I'm still learning about how to react. I'm still learning about how to walk up to you and start talking, about how to pull you out of the loud conference crowd so I can hear what you're saying.

With a few events coming up I wanted to post this in hopes that you'll see me and we'll talk. If I ask you to repeat yourself, you'll know why but you won't let it influence our conversation. It may influence the location of our conversation or the need to focus on our conversation. But I've discovered great value in being very focused on conversation and interaction with others. I'm excited to practice what I've learned in conversation with you.

Related posts:

The Beginning of a Story

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