Hearing – A critical social sense, an important personal skill
Hearing – with the ears.
Of the five senses, hearing is perhaps the most critically important for personal relationships and social interaction. One of the greatest treasures of life is the pleasure of simply talking to each other. One of the greatest losses of aging happens as the voices of your friends and loved ones fades from your perception, and carrying on a conversation becomes first a drudgery and then impossible. My father was a pianist who made his living as a cabinetmaker; some of my best memories are of jam sessions in the wee hours when dad would bring home a bunch of musician friends and play the night through, and mom would make breakfast for the lot of them in the morning. But my father, at 95, couldn’t hear the music anymore. Worse, he couldn’t hear what I said to him, and even when I yelled, he misunderstood most of what I expected him to hear. It is very draining to convey the simplest of messages. It was easier to let him talk, and if I wanted to get his understanding, call him on his amplified phone to make any points in his best ear.
For a young person, hearing loss can be adapted to by using hearing aids or learning sign language. For an old person, those adaptation don’t seem to work well; hearing aids don’t sound right (my father complained – and refused to buy them), and who can learn a new language when you are having trouble remembering how to tie your shoes.
My brother made the most telling impression on me when he remarked how funny it was to eat dinner with my dad and two friends and listen to them carrying on three totally different conversations and yet nodding and answering each other like they could hear one another. They don’t have a clue what is being said. I am not looking forward to that at all. Well, perhaps the upside would be never getting offended by another’s crass remarks or political rantings.
Most kids today have zero regard for future of their hearing, thinking they can blast their ears with the loudest subwoofers and the shrillest tweeters in their cars and ride unmuffeled ATVs. The rock concerts and all-night dance clubs are severely damaging, and yet youth is oblivious to the potential for killing a business career or the pleasure of quiet conversation with your spouse after 40-plus years of marriage, just the two of you. I have managed to come through 74 years of life with most of my hearing intact. I can’t hear the ultrasonic sensors in the department stores like I could as a kid, but the world is full of crickets and birds and wind-chimes on the neighbors patio four houses down. But I do notice that it is more difficult to catch every nuance of conversation in a noisy restaurant (my wife complains that I have no trouble hearing conversations at the other tables – but that is a different listening skill).
Hearing – with the heart.
The other side of this hearing issue is that many people with perfect hearing never learn to actively listen to what another has to say. There is an art or skill to listening – some come by it naturally, others need to work to acquire the ability. I happen to be married to an exceptionally skilled listener, and that has been my social salvation. We have many dear friends as a couple, and I have no illusions that they value the relationship because of my conversation skills – my wife Jo is the rock upon which our relationships are built. Jo listens, and she hears; she hears the needs and feelings of the others, and she knows how to act to meet those needs. I seem to be full of things I want to tell you; Jo is there to be with you and hear your story. She will reflect your goodness to you – you will always walk away feeling good about the relationship and your value to her. She loves by hearing and responding with caring. I am a fortunate man to be blessed with her love!
So this topic will cover strategies for preserving both hearing with the ears and with the heart. I thought it belonged under Personal Deportment, because it is important to keep these capacities sharp as we age. There is a tendency to turn inward and become more self-absorbed as we age, complaining about more and more as we become more infirm. Those who age well manage to stay connected, with relationships that get richer with time – an important part of that ability is being able to hear with both ears and heart. More to come….