Like colours with which a canvas is painted, so words can add light and life, or be equally as effective in casting shadow. For those familiar with the book “Personality Plus,” you’ll probably have answered many related quizzes reflecting the choleric, sanguine, phlegmatic or melancholic temperament traits that you may or may not have. As much as I really don’t like labels or putting people into preconceived boxes, I have to admit, that every time that I took the “personality check quiz” I came out as top student with a temperament reflecting 100% melancholy. Great, not what a melancholic wants to see! Consequently when the reality of deafness became apparent, my world clouded over with negative words. “Disabled”, “limited”, “impairment”, “imperfect”, “broken”, “delayed”, “unfulfilled”, “abnormal”, “tragedy”, were just a few that I used regularly at first, which added strokes of grey to the canvas of my reality. I mostly just thought out these words, but occasionally, when speaking to someone that I felt I could trust, they would flow out of me from a place of hopelessness. The thing is, the more I used these words, the darker the picture became, and the more I wanted to reach out for yet another shade of grey.
It required several key steps in helping me to see what was happening. Firstly, a friend would stop me mid-sentence and swap the negative word for a positive. “Let’s stop using the word ‘normal’ referring to what the girls do not have, but rather use the word ‘typical’ instead,” she’d encourage. Subtleties like these, I discovered, made a difference to the way I started seeing my situation. And then, of course, meeting deaf adults and realizing that the labels that I associated with the word “deaf” had no relation at all, also added a whole spectrum of new colours. I can’t pretend that my personality changed overnight through my own efforts of trying to see things through an alternative lens. A mega dose of grace has helped me to see things so differently in such a short space of time. Speaking and thinking using words laced with life has certainly added the hue of hope.
I have however become somewhat oversensitive to identifying words of grey. Not in a way that I become offended…I generally am not offended, as I recognize that those very words were words that I would have used just less than a year ago, so offence would be hypocritical, but as I hear them spoken, it’s as if they are highlighted in my head and made into a bigger,bolder font. And the kindest, most well-meaning people use these words, without any offence meant in any way at all. It does however make me think, that we probably don’t realize,just how significant every word that we use is – every word adds a brush stroke to the canvas of someone’s reality and future.
Recently, whilst taking notes in a seminar where a group of the nicest professionals on deafness discussed speech and language related to typical deaf kids, I found myself no longer captivated by the content of the seminar, but rather at the back of my note book jotting down all the negative words that I was hearing, all the words that were being used without any intension of being harmful. “Problems”, “worse”, “normal [I kept hearing my friend’s interjection of ‘typical’ every time this word was used]” “performs poorly”, “disordered” and “pathology” were just a few. I needed to arrest these words through recognizing them before they stained my thoughts and heart in any way. And the thing is that most of these words are the words used in literature, academic articles and text books related to child deafness. Their tarnish has become accepted as reasonable and ordinary. So how does one begin to attempt change?
I know this journey is tough, it’s my reality, and I am certainly not in denial of that, but what I have realized is that, the words that we use, are powerful. The words that parents hear can transform a perception of an overwhelming problem into that of an optimistic future; a situation of feeling isolated and short-changed by being dealt something “abnormal” to the discovery that actually you’ve been afforded the opportunity to embark on a journey that is just different to everyone else’s…the privilege of not been offered the ordinary, but rather an invitation to embrace a reality to pursue the extraordinary. Words make that change. Once they are said or thought, they become easier to use next time round, until eventually, they filter into our list of daily vocabulary that regularly add strokes of light and colour to our reality.
If I ,the girl who aced the melancholy check quiz, can change the colours of my thoughts and words, I sure do believe that anyone can! I’ve realized that change starts with me. Let’s start being mindful of our vocabulary, and slowly but surely, we’ll recognize the shaded words and then have the opportunity to trade them for something lighter and brighter. Let’s talk about deaf kids as being “extraordinary”, “exceptional”, “simply different”, “visually astute”, “capable”, “unlimited”, “gifted” and then highlight their individual excellent qualities. Let’s paint boldly with streaks of optimism and eager expectation.
Words, as the definition above states, bring meaning, and their meaning echoes into the future of the situations and people that they are describing. Our words have the power of predicting how the story ends, let’s really be mindful of that.