A few months ago, my guest blogger Lauren Sherwood wrote a poignant and popular piece on the “two most painful words to a hard of hearing person”. If you have hearing loss, you know what the two words are: Never mind!
The article beautifully expressed the universal stab in the stomach that people with hearing loss (PWHL) feel every time they hear these words. Never mind shuts us down, invalidates us, highlights our struggles with hearing loss, hurts our feelings and, what’s more, it’s just plain rude. The words light a fire under our frustrations and often we can’t help spitting out an emotional response: “Don’t say that to me! How dare you! Tell me what you said!”
In our struggles with the stigma of hearing loss, some of us for just a short time and some for a lifetime, every minor rejection related to our hearing loss, whether intended or not, can be a blow to our self-regard. And this term has the same impact in whatever language it is delivered:
Laissez faire! French
No importa! Spanish
Non importa! Italian
δεν πειράζει ! Greek
Nic nie szkodzi! Polish
Laat maar! Dutch
Vergiss es (forget it) or nicht wichtig (not important) German
Doesn’t matter! New Zealand
But are we being over-sensitive when we hear those words? Hearing people may think so, but I believe most people with hearing loss would agree when I say, “No, we’re not being over-sensitive. Well maybe. But even if we are, it’s tough to ignore the rejection we feel with each brush-off, each refusal to repeat what was said. When you stop us cold, it tells us you don’t value our input into what’s supposed to be a conversation.”
Why do hearing people say it in the first place, often accompanied with a little wave of the hand and almost always with eyes shifting away from ours? There are a few possibilities:
- They’re tired and think we’re asking them to repeat everything they’ve been droning on about. (That’s too bad, but do it anyway.)
- They’re in a rush and don’t have time to repeat. (Make the time.)
- They forgot what they said. (I sympathize, but just admit it.)
- They don’t want to talk about it anymore. (Find a more polite way to bring the conversation to a close—but after you repeat yourself.)
- They realize what they’ve said is trivial, silly or just plain stupid—and repeating it would highlight how truly dumb their comments were. (Let me be the one who decides whether it’s important or not.)
Any person, regardless of hearing ability, who is asked to repeat something, should just be courteous and repeat it. It’s that simple. Otherwise, to paraphrase what Thumper’s mama made him repeat in the movie ‘Bambi’: “If you can’t say somethin’ twice, don’t say nuthin’ at all.”
Maybe we people with hearing loss do need thicker skins when it comes to hearing loss. We’re working hard to succeed with our hearing loss, especially to maintain our self-esteem. And it’s an ongoing process—one that we must accept—to train others on how to communicate with us. One internet site about developing thicker skin said we should ‘learn to be happy with ourselves, don’t let people know they get to us and ignore what people say.’ Well, we agree with the first part, but the second and third points run opposite of what we’re trying to do here—we want to know what people are saying! I like what the writer at eatsleepbe.com had to say:
Put it in perspective. Is it possible that person did not realize how the words came out? Why is this bothering me?
Determine a response. Think it out carefully to avoid misinterpretation. Two wrongs don’t make a right.
Thumper’s is one possible response to never-minders. Another is the angry response, fodder for another argument. So, in preparation for the next time it happens (because it will happen again, as sure as the sun’s gonna rise tomorrow), practice some alternative methods to break the non importa-person of their bad habit, or at least remind them there’s a better way to communicate. Instead of lashing out, take a breath before answering:
To “Oh never mind”: Well, I’m already ‘minding’, so please repeat it.
To “It’s not important”: It is to me….or… Well, then stop talking.
To “It was nothing”: It must be, because you said it. It was part of our conversation.
To “It doesn’t matter”: Yes it does.
If the person is a chronic offender, and you really must continue interacting with them—your spouse or mom or child, for example—it’s time for a serious sit-down and review of communication basics.
The bottom line, as the writer Katherine Bouton wrote in response to Lauren’s article, “…don’t say, ‘Never mind, it doesn’t matter.’ To the person who can’t hear it, everything matters.”