My Blog

July 8, 2017

Elderly Mothers and Speaking to the Deaf

Why is it so difficult to talk to a deaf or almost deaf person?

Recently I was sitting in a lovely garden, purple bougainvillea falling over an orange wall, blue and yellow flowers nodding in the breeze, palm fronds rattling in a soft whisper overhead. I was working away on my laptop when my attention was drawn by two scenes taking place to my left and right. A mother and young daughter, maybe 12 or 14, chatted happily at one end of the garden. At the other end of the lovely green space a mother and 26 year-old son stood screaming at each other.

One mother sat curled up in a barrel chair, smiling and laughing over something her daughter was sharing. The feeling was one of comfortable happiness. Their voices were low, the laughter gentle and very real. The interaction was polite, the respect between the two genuine. Polite society at its best

At the other end, however, the grown son was yelling at his almost deaf mother. The raised voices made everyone within earshot cringe. She gave as good as she got with equally raucous demands for him to stop screaming. The anger seemed to escalate as each accused the other of yelling.

Those of us in the garden had been forced to listen to several episodes of the fighting. The son, after many years of watching his parents fight, had developed the habit of yelling at his mother. Was it just to make himself heard? Or was it part of an abusive pattern that the mother had allowed to happen or had been forced to accept?

The mother, obviously, had not heard his first request which had been spoken in a normal voice. When she turned to him, looking puzzled, he raised his voice and repeated his question. Instantly, she bristled and told him not to yell at her. He reacted by yelling louder, claiming that he wasn’t yelling. The two were soon embroiled in a screaming match that resulted in insults and slamming doors.

The rest of us, who had been forced to listen to the altercation, were left shaken and horrified. To hear two people quarreling is frightening. I’ve been told that some nationalities have no problem with yelling at each other. The Soprano TV series comes to mind. Or that old movie with Cher where she screams at family members and her eventual husband.

Is yelling at someone verbal abuse? Those of us subjected to the terrible altercation certainly thought it was. The mother and son never escalated to physical abuse, that I could tell. Or at least we didn’t witness it but the son did slam a door so hard it nearly broke the latch. The anger in the raised voices was enough to leave those of us who were subjected to the quarrel wondering about calling the cops.

Would we have put up with such abuse? Several of the women who discussed the episode in horrified whispers insisted that they would never have put up with that kind of yelling from a son or daughter. But how often are we subjected to a boss or co-worker or leader who yells or insults people? Sometimes, we accept it with bowed heads and silent reproach and we creep silently away. To object would result in a fight that we are not prepared for. Instinctively, we avoid such battles.

The whole point of social restraint is to prevent confrontations that can lead to violence. Social rules are put in place by custom or by our governments to keep people civil. When civility is replaced by violent outbursts, the whole structure of the society is in peril.  Polite society, with all its rules, must be trained from childhood and it is up to parents to teach their children to behave properly and politely in public. Not because it is proper or polite, but because it is necessary for our society to survive. Somewhere along the line, that mother had gotten so used to being yelled at that she had accepted it as normal. It wasn’t.

Our society unravels when people are no longer polite to each other.  Now-a-days, it seems that polite interaction is seen as being too ‘politically correct.’ Yelling insulting words is becoming the norm. Road rage is all too common. The views of the opposing political parties can no longer be expressed in polite terms. Anger escalates as voices rise. Civility is collapsing and violence is encouraged. Not a pleasant future to consider.

Meanwhile, as my mother grows increasingly hard of hearing and her hearing aids grow progressively weaker, despite constant new batteries, I find myself speaking more and more loudly. And the louder I get, in order to try to get her to understand, the angrier I become. I don’t intend to. I don’t want to. She certainly taught me better. I avoid confrontations at all costs. I am one of those who can be browbeaten by a loud, abusive boss. I don’t understand yelling and I don’t react well to it. But suddenly I realize that I am the one doing the yelling.

After listening to the horror show of the son and mother screaming at each other, I am more aware than ever of the need to just get closer and speak more clearly to my mother. There is no need for shouting. Yelling and anger accomplish nothing. Perhaps listening to that verbal abuse from the mother and son was a good lesson. A horrifying one, but a valuable lesson in civility and respect for my mother.

About Caroline Castillo Crimm
Retired Professor Emeritus from Sam Houston State University, interested in writing novels and speaking about topics such as the history of Latin American. Would like to share the AMAZING world of the 18th century in Northern New Spain, that's Spanish Texas and Mexico!
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