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One look at the news, and you will see how many people are feeling disconnected from one another. Whether reading about conflict on the other side of the globe or hearing a broadcast about an incident in your own community, you can see that people sometimes feel a lack of common ground. For those who are closest to us, a lack of connection is particularly disheartening. If we aren’t able to establish and maintain strong connections with those right next to us, how can we build broader communities of trust and shared values? Each May, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association takes the opportunity to celebrate Better Hearing and Speech Month. This year’s theme is “Connecting People,” and it comes at a time when those connections are more precious than ever. Let’s consider three different types of relationships you might have with people who have hearing loss: in the community, in your group of friends, and in your family. In each case, there are steps you can take to build a stronger connection. These connections can radiate out to build a more peaceful and loving world, and each of us has to do our part to make this world full of rich, supportive connections.
Your community is built of people with differences and similarities, big and small. Though we tend to look at differences, particularly with media and other influences emphasizing these differences above all else, you can take the opportunity of Better Hearing and Speech Month to recognize the similarities between you. When you encounter someone in your neighborhood or town who has hearing loss, you might think immediately about the things you do not have in common, including the inability for that person to easily converse. Rather than focusing on differences, why not consider the shared community values that bond you with that person who has hearing loss. When you acknowledge all you have in common, you can find yourself communicating and empathizing in ways that build connections rather than breaking them down.
Our friends are somewhat different from the broader community, because we tend to have more in common. Whether you make friends in your bowling league, church, or music ensemble, these connections of friendship are built on shared values, interests, and beliefs. Communicating about your commonality is a great way to build stronger friendships. Those who have hearing loss in your friend group can sometimes feel disconnected or alienated from others. The struggle to communicate can even fracture long-standing friendships, making those with hearing loss feel isolated or cut off from the group. Why not take this month as an opportunity to reach out to an old friend with hearing loss. When you take a step toward connection, you might be surprised how receptive your old friend can be.
Your family might seem to have a lot in common, much like a friend group. Although you do have a relationship of kinship, any holiday or reunion also shows that you have differences. These long-standing relationships with family members who are different from us are a great way to form a more connected and understanding world. When we listen to family members with different perspectives, we are better able to see our shared humanity, rather than the ideas that divide us. Let’s take the opportunity of Better Hearing and Speech Month to have a conversation with someone with hearing loss. That person might feel alone in their perspectives and thoughts, unable to communicate without awkwardness, anxiety, or embarrassment. You might notice that hearing aids would improve that conversation, and you can take the opportunity to talk about treatment for hearing loss, as well. When you listen to your family member’s experience with hearing loss, you can not only help them take steps toward assistance but also learn what you can do to accommodate their needs in the meantime. Rather than making assumptions about your family member’s needs, you can learn how better to meet them with generosity and care. With these tips in mind, you will no doubt be able to improve the world through better connections this month as you celebrate Better Hearing and Speech Month!