I’m sorry, what did you say?

Posted on 9 July 2010 at 2:22 pm in Personal Stories, Writing.

As I get older, it seems that my hearing has become more sensitive and less accurate at the same time. The same thing goes for my family. Obviously aging has something to do with this. Heredity plays a part also (my mother became hard of hearing when she was older). Part of my hearing sensitivity has to do with the environment I married into.

I married a woman from Iowa. She was very sensitive to things that were loud. She enjoyed quiet evenings in quiet places, which might have had some influence why she doesn’t like to go to movies. I grew up in New York right next to a subway train yard, loud radiators, in an apartment that had street sounds and light flashes all the time. My wife and I settled in a suburb in Long Island. The longer that we lived together the more used to quiet I became. Then we had my son. He grew up with a sensory integration issues. Too much stimulation, especially noise, made it difficult for him to do things. Hence there was even more quiet. The more used to quieter things I became, the more sensitive I was to louder sounds.

That does not mean that I lived in silence. I always liked to hear things. While driving I always have the radio or podcasts playing, usually with spoken material rather than music. My family likes to ride in silence. My wife still complains that I leave the radio in the car on at a level that is very loud and is not surprised that my hearing has been affected. Though I am more sensitive than I was, you can see our audio levels of acceptance still differ.

It appears to me that society itself has changed what it considers an acceptable level of sound. When I was a beginner teacher and wanted to give my class a chance to work yet have the opportunity to talk while working, I would tell them to remember to use their “Restaurant voices”.  Now for me, that meant you could talk just slightly above a whisper, just like your family would do in a restaurant. It worked well and was a good analogy to use that students could relate to. To ask them to whisper was unreasonable or to speak low without a frame of reference didn’t work either. The “Restaurant voice” was perfect.

This analogy would not work today. Have you ever been in restaurant lately? Each table it seems is trying to outdo the table that is three tables away from them. There is little consideration for anyone else in the restaurant. My family continues to talk in “our restaurant voices”, but to be heard, we generally have to lean very close to the person we’re talking to to be heard. We generally choose not to speak louder. I’ve tried other analogies. Even if I suggested use your “Library voice” I don’t think I would get the same response today that I got years ago. When I grew up you would be Shhed! even if you whispered in a group while you were at the library. Today, it takes a lot more than that to have a librarian ask you to be quiet.

The last alternative that I said to my classes, which still should work, was “use your 6-inch voice” (speak at such a volume that you can only be heard by someone 6 inches away). Sometimes if I was in a good mood I would allow 12-inch voices.

Speaking voice adds the quality of hearing. My family has told me that I mumble a lot, which is why I’m not understood and that I talk too loud, as if I’m performing so they can’t understand me. As the speaker, that is hard to comprehend, since I hear myself perfectly. There is also the issue of multi-tasking activities and location that I’ve found impacts hearing. It is amazing how much my wife and son cannot hear what I’m saying when they are reading or otherwise occupied. Not to mention trying to understand what someone is saying on the other side of a wall or from another room. Then again, I don’t hear them either when I’m doing the same things.  The only difficulty I have with this is that when they are talking to me and I can’t understand them, I tend to ask them to speak louder or repeat what they said. When it is the other way around, they usually don’t realize that I’m even speaking to them.  But that is another issue, not necessarily a hearing one.

As an aside, I’m thinking of using the “6-inch” voice idea when I do some of my family concerts. If I can’t get the adults to sit with their children where they are generally quiet and responsive I’ll give them the option to leave or speak in a 6-inch voice, maybe I can get across to them that what they do, when they talk in groups, interferes with my program. But that is not a hearing issue, it is one of respect, which I’ve written about before http://hdhstory.net/Storyblog/?p=64.

As to my hearing. I’m sure it won’t get better. I’ll just keep plodding along listening as best I can and do my best to read lips while people are talking to me. Eventually I’ll need a hearing aid like my mother had, hopefully one that doesn’t whistle so loud. And some day maybe scientists will develop a form of mental telepathy, so that I can speak and hear directly to and from the minds I’m communicating with. I’ll try not to mumble then. You never know.

Leave a Reply

Leave A Comment


Top