No cottage vacation is complete without games – playing on the dock, on the porch late at night when it’s too hot to sleep, or inside around the kitchen table during a thunderstorm. An old Ontario favorite cottage game (almost as much fun as holding your breath underwater for so long that your mom jumps in, fully dressed and holding her drink, to save you) is crokinole (KROH-ki-nohl).
Players use their middle fingers and thumbs to flick discs across a circular wooden board. The goal is to use the barriers of strategically placed pegs to land in high-scoring regions while knocking opponents’ discs into the ‘ditch’. Think of the game as curling played on a tabletop.
I like crokinole because it requires a good middle finger and it does not require a good sense of hearing. I don’t need to see the faces of other players, or understand what they’re saying as I aim for their discs. But there are rules – and each family seems to have its own. This can cause, uh, shall we say, interpretive disagreements when playing the game later in life, with anyone who is not family, because no one thinks to establish the guidelines before starting the game. Everyone just assumes the other players know how to play crokinole the way they do.
During a recent game of crokinole during my current month-long cottage vacation, a heated discussion flared up over an imaginary infraction over somebody’s stupid, made-up rule. As a result, we decided to list some basic rules of the game. What started out as the rules of crokinole developed into a general list of rules for all games. And later, looking at the list, I realized that these ‘rules of the game’ apply to communication guidelines for people with hearing loss and their various communication partners.
Before the game starts, establish the rules and follow them. The game will be more fun, with less chance that someone will start to cry. Who cares what the actual rules are, as long as all participants understand and agree to them? In our hard of hearing game, this means laying down some basic communication guidelines with the people we are talking to. You know the rules – speak up, face me, move your lips, etc. As Kenny Rogers sings in The Gambler, “Son, I’ve made my life out of readin’ people’s faces..”
Learn the game. The Gambler also says, “If you’re gonna play the game, boy, ya gotta learn to play it right.” Nobody’s an expert when first starting out. If you haven’t played before, ask the other players how (or look up the rules and strategies on your smartphone when nobody’s looking). In hearing loss, that means you ask the experts – the hearing care professional, internet sources, or other people with hearing loss. How does this work? What do I have to do? What’s the realistic goal? What is possible?
Play the hand you’re dealt. Yes, it’s frustrating to get the raw deal of hearing loss, but what are you gonna do? Hearing loss is not a game of poker; you can’t exchange a few cards for a few more decibels. You have to suck it up and go with what you’ve got. Accept it and move forward. Yes, it’s the lemons-lemonade thing – face the reality of hearing loss and do what you have to do to communicate as best as possible. That’s a prize worth playing for.
Everybody takes their turn, in more or less the proper order. This is an important rule in hearing loss. Only one person speaks at a time so that the person with hearing loss knows whose lips to look at. When everyone talks at once, it gets noisy and confusing – somebody’s gonna lose, and it’s most likely going to be you, the one with the hearing aids or CI.
Size up the competition. Who (or what) is going to make communication easy, difficult or do-able for you? Understand the barriers that could prevent you from succeeding in a given listening environment. Is there background noise? Are the other players mumblers? Can you do something about it? If not, as The Gambler says,“You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em/Know when to walk away and know when to run.” Or, when to turn around and fight for your rights.
Learn how to be a good loser. Be respectful of others. Use your nice words. If you don’t, nobody will play with you or talk to you anymore, regardless of how right (you think) you are. If you’ve been blocked out of a conversation, or a game has become an inaccessible brick wall, find an effective way to explain your communication needs. Yes – again! That’s just how the game in the sandbox is played.
Develop winning strategies. It takes time to get good at this game. The simple act of admitting a hearing loss – positively and without apology – is an effective tactic that does not appear out of thin air. But once you’ve got the technique down pat, and once you learn how to empower others to communicate in a way that works for everyone, you will come out the winner every single time.
Be prepared. Whatever the game or situation is, be ready. Golfers carry extra balls and tees, hard of hearing people carry extra batteries. Always.
Ask for help when you need it. This is one of the most difficult rules to follow, because sometimes we just don’t realize we need help. But here’s a hint: if communication never seems to get any easier, or if people keep breaking the rules of good communication, maybe you just need some help to learn how to make things better. There’s no shame in asking for help, just pride in taking control of the game.
Learn to say thank-you. When a game ends on a positive note, regardless of who wins, everyone’s happy and they will want to play again, soon. When a friend, family member or acquaintance does particularly well at communicating with you one day, or perhaps unexpectedly anticipates your needs, let them know how much their brilliance or kindness means to you.
Games are fun, enjoy them!