Houston, You Have a Problem

Most coaches, teachers and other philosophers will tell you that having some degree of ability seems to make folks reluctant to admit their deficiencies. A player who regularly drills three-pointers from twenty-seven feet might convince herself that’s the only skill she needs to be a great player. Students who can sort of write a sentence don’t believe they need none of that there grammar nonsense.

Adding to the frustration of my advancing loss of hearing was the fact that it seemed to me that I could usually understand face to face conversation in normal volumes. I especially found it easy to understand native English speakers of male persuasion who spoke at a normal (Southern) rate of diction. Fast speakers with a distinctive accent were more challenging but that was true even back when my hearing was akin to that of a rabbit with a good set of freshly cleaned ears. Something like forty years ago…

Soft spoken women were killer, especially when they stood fifteen feet away and the AC was pushing air out the vent directly over my office desk. By the third time I asked such visitors to repeat what they have said, mutual frustration was evident. Few of them resorted to throwing objects in my general direction and I consoled myself with the realization that their diction really could use some work.

My own frustration turned to near anger, though, with folks who left phone messages I could not understand, especially at that critical moment when they spoke their own number.

On a good day with a really good cup of coffee, I can say my own phone number in a few nanoseconds and understand it quite clearly. Of course, I already know it and have heard it hundreds of times before. A number of people who seem to think they have a matter of some importance to discuss with me will spend thirty seconds leaving a detailed message. Then, right at the most critical moment, when they seem to suddenly suspect they are being charged by the millisecond for using my answering service, they try to cram their phone number into a single syllable. “Eighonesevtwfrfr3jubvlefie.”

Now think for a minute folks, other than the good will and dutiful attention of the person for whom you are leaving a message, what is the single most critical element of reciprocal communication? If you want someone to call you back, what is the essential element of that person being able to do that?

That’s right, friends and neighbors: an accurate phone number. It doesn’t matter how carefully I listen to your message and how promptly I am willing to return your call if I can’t decipher your verbally scribbled phone number. Frankly, if I listen to your message three times and still can’t understand your number, you’re getting a very special place on my priority list of callbacks. No long term animosity, of course. You’ll hear mooing at the front door before you hear back from me. That sounds like meanness, I reckon, but it’s really not even a threat. If I don’t have your number, how am I going to call you back?

Here’s the bottom line: I have a hearing impairment and everybody in America knows that means you’re supposed to alter your communication patterns and do everything in and beyond your power so that I don’t have to actually admit that I have a problem and take actions myself to deal with it.

Geegawlawoolikers, I already wear glasses! That I don’t really need… most of the time… unless I’m trying to see something…

H. Arnett


About Doc Arnett

Native of southwestern Kentucky currently living in Blair, Kansas, with my wife of twenty-five years, Randa. We have, between us, eight children and twenty-one grandkids. We enjoy singing, worship, remodeling and travel.
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