We’ve all had the experience of thinking we heard someone say something only to find out what they actually said was quite different from what we understood. For those of us with hearing impairment this is a regular occurrence. Even with our hearing aids in, we can struggle at times to clearly understand people with a soft voice, those who speak rapidly, people who look away from you as they speak, etc. The result is we don’t hear every word that is said so we learn to fill in the blanks—sometimes more successfully than others.
About ten years ago Janice and I were rafting down the Colorado River with our oldest daughter and her husband who were living in Phoenix at the time. As we wound through the spectacular bluffs that range from 700 to 1,000 feet in height, our guide told us to keep an eye out for “the big orange jeep” on the bluffs. She gave no further information so I took it as some kind of inside joke—like one of the guides had somehow managed to pull off the ultimate prank of getting someone else’s jeep up in the bluffs and then for good measure painted it orange so everyone could see what they had done.
As we went down the river, she made two or three more references to it. Even though I had my binoculars with me, I wasn’t able to see anything. Finally, I semi-whispered to Janice, “What’s the deal with the big orange jeep because I can’t see it anywhere.” After an inappropriate amount of snickering that turned into laughter, she said three those three special words I will never forget: “big horn sheep.”
Welcome to our world. As I said, this is what happens to people with hearing impairment (and the people around them) on a regular basis. I was doing some business over the telephone recently and had just provided someone with our physical address. They then asked, “Do you have any females at this address.” I wanted to say, “What business of yours is it if we do?” but I have learned to instead say, “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you. Would you please repeat that.” And when they did and I realized they wanted was my email address. And so it goes. Since I believe that humor is one of the great shock absorbers of life, I’ve learned to laugh about it.
For people with hearing difficulties, trying to communicate in any environment where there is a significant amount of background noise is the biggest challenge. Because we don’t hear at full volume to begin with, competing noises make it very hard to decipher what someone is saying. Restaurants, ballgames, concerts, and even before and after church can all be challenging places for people with hearing impairment.
This principle of competing noise operates at the spiritual level as well and it does so not just for some, but for all people. We live in a culture where we are bombarded with sights, sounds and screens. We’re usually not very conscious of much of this background noise because we’ve grown accustomed to it. Yet it’s there and it affects us in ways we don’t think about. One of the more obvious ways is how it dulls us. If someone wants our attention they have to ramp up the visual or decibel level. Consequently, we often fail to see the less obvious sights or hear the quieter voices. This is part of what I call our “distraction bubble.”