“Have a Sense of Humor!”, They Say!

Gael Hannan
September 5, 2023

In article after book after website about living well with hearing loss, maintaining a sense of humor ranks high on the list of recommended strategies.

When I read the advice suggesting we keep our hearing loss funny bone active, I want to yell, “But what if you don’t have one?”

I’m not talking about getting jokes or being witty; I’m referring to the ability to see the absurd humor in the moments when communication goes wrong. It’s not always easy, especially right then, in the moment.

I mean, how easy do they think it is to laugh off the mis-hears, embarrassing moments, and having to bluff one’s way through conversation?

It’s not – unless you’ve had a lot of practice of rolling with the punches. It’s difficult – unless you’ve come to the point of acceptance, of shedding any shame, and of understanding how these moments happen.

Right from the start, we can understand how other people find the mis-hears funny. But laughter isn’t our first or only response to a situation – such as when the teacher calls on us in class and we stand up and apologize for not listening, and it turns the teacher had called on some other. That humiliation is evergreen for me, although 50 years on, it’s a funny story.

It takes time to come to terms with our hearing loss and realize that (most) other people aren’t laughing at us, but hopefully with us at the simple humor in what just happened. As a child, my parents were talking about my sister’s shyness, and I said, “I didn’t know Louise has a sinus problem.” My parents laughed about that for years. Me, not so much.

Even though I use humor in my work, presentations and performances to illustrate the hearing loss life, I still feel an occasional twinge of emotion at a spectacular hearing muck up. But that twinge is tiny compared my red-faced embarrassment of earlier days when any laughter made me feel lesser than.

Recently, a friend recently said something, and I repeated it to ensure I understood. By his soft hoot of laughter, I knew I hadn’t, but I simply laughed too and said, “I’m guessing that’s not what you said, hey?”

It helps to let our communication partners know that their frustrations and humor about our hearing loss are real and acceptable emotions. When we all understand that, humor is one way to get through communication challenges.

Yes, we must keep our sense of humor – but we have to find it first. Communication is the glue that connects us as people and hearing loss is part of our communication. There will always be comical misinterpretations and so let’s be grateful for the sense of funny.

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