…and I will use them for hearing with, because mine currently aren’t working.
I don’t know what I’ve got, but I wouldn’t wish it on anybody, and it involves my ears being blocked. From the inside. No making an appointment to get my ears syringed and coming home with everything in Dolby surround-sound.
Currently, I’m existing on decongestants and painkillers, and generally being miserable.
It’s quite weird, not being able to hear properly (or chew food properly). I have to look at people directly in order to hear them; I wonder if I’m speaking too loudly (because I can’t hear myself very well). My balance is slightly off, and I feel like my mind is wrapped in a big pillow. I’m slightly disconnected from the world, as if there’s a barrier between me and it.
It’s been going on for several days, and it’s getting to the point where if you don’t lend me your ears, I will come and take them because I’m just that sick of not being able to hear.
Is this what it’s like to be really deaf? I mean, permanently.
In my last job, my second-in-department wore hearing-aids. She didn’t at first, and we started to suspect that she was a bit deaf when we had to yell two or three times to get her attention if she wasn’t facing us. Eventually, she went to get her ears tested and came back with two hearing aids. When she first wore them, she said that on the one hand (ear?) she hadn’t realised how many sounds she had been missing. Related to this, at first when she got the hearing aids, she found it difficult to pay attention to people, or to hold a conversation in a crowded room, because she would get distracted by background noise. I think this was because she had just lost the skill of listening to important sounds and tuning the rest out, so she had to relearn it. On the other hand, she said that sound through the hearing-aid sounded ‘artificial’, and she wasn’t sure that she liked it.
Then there’s Beethoven; deaf as a post. I’ve heard the joke that going deaf didn’t stop him hearing the music – it just stopped him hearing the distractions. But I wonder how he felt about it? Was the music in his head enough, or did he miss ‘real’ music?
What’s bothering me most is the feeling of not being quite connected to the world (although the rest of it isn’t much fun either). It’s playing Hob with my ability to concentrate. Do deaf people feel disconnected? Or is it the kind of problem you don’t have if you go gradually deaf, so you don’t realise you’re losing your hearing until you’re significantly deaf? If you’re deaf, what do you miss the most? How do you feel about it? Is it different for people who were born deaf, and if so, how?
A couple of my friends – a married couple – are disabled. The male half finds it difficult to accept that I can lift and carry stuff better than him. He’s an unreconstructed working class male, and my ability to pick up and carry heavy furniture hits him right in the manhood (even if I am careful with both ends of the bench). Intellectually, he knows it’s not his fault, but emotionally, he still feels shamed and frustrated by it. None of the rest of us resent having to do his share of the lifting and carrying, but he resents it enough for all of us.
It gets me thinking about disability… what does it mean, really? The word itself – ‘disabled’ – means ‘made-not-able’, as in, not able to do something. But then consider Douglas Bader – after losing both lower legs (one amputated above the knee, one below) he went on to become a World War II fighter ace. He could fly, drive, and dance (of which skills I possess only one out of three). Does he count as disabled? According to his biography, Reach for the Sky, Bader was certified – simultaneously – 100% disabled and 100% fit.
It makes me think, is it right to attach the ‘disabled’ label to someone just because they happen to have fewer legs than are issued as standard? Or because they are mildly dyslexic? Everybody with that label gets put in the same box, and once in the box, they’re not allowed to escape. Douglas Bader had to campaign hard to be allowed back into the RAF, despite the fact that he was capable of doing the job. Is a person still disabled if they overcome their disadvantage to be able to do everything any average person can do? If a person with no lower legs can do everything I can do, and can additionally do something I can’t, then who is disabled? Me or him?
In the UK, we have something called ‘positive about disabled people’. This means that, for companies subscribing to this, if you are disabled, you automatically get an interview for the job, if you fulfil the basic qualification requirements. This is supposedly because a disabled person might be disadvantaged somehow by being judged only on their application form. I fail to be able to get my head around this. Being in a wheelchair makes a person unable to complete an application form correctly? For dyslexia, yes, I could understand it, or any other disability that makes filling in forms difficult. But for all disabilities?
I wonder how disabled people feel about it? I’ve never had the opportunity to ask. I wonder if they feel the same way as I would if I found out I’d only got an interview because I was female? Under those circumstances, my first thought would be to tell the panel where they could stuff their job, and their obviously low opinion of women, if they thought I wasn’t capable of getting a job without special treatment. My second would be, if they give me the job, can I be sure that it was because I was the best candidate? Or was it because they needed a ‘token female’, or because their recruiting department had told them they needed more women so they’d better appoint the next one that applied for a job? What would my potential colleagues think? Would they resent me? Would they think I’d only been appointed because of my gender? How would that affect my ability to do the job?
Positive discrimination is a difficult area. On the one hand, one might say that it’s necessary in order to get minority ‘representation’ in under-diversified areas. But on the other hand… what if minority groups don’t want to be part of that particular area and that’s why they aren’t there? I mean, an extreme example would be the severe lack of diversity shown by the low level of Muslim participation in the pork-butchering trade. They aren’t there because they don’t want to be there. And if they don’t want to be there, it would be wrong to force them to participate, and a waste of time and effort to try to persuade them, no matter what we think about ‘diversity’.
This leads me to think of communism. It may be apocryphal (and probably is), but I heard the following story:
A group of Westerners is on a guided tour of a Russian factory (during the communist era). Of course, all the factory people speak Russian, and the Westerners have an official interpreter with them so that they can understand what the workers say. They are introduced to one chap, and when asked what he thinks of communism, his words are translated by the official interpreter as: “Even though I have won a Nobel prize, I still work in this factory under the same conditions as everyone else and I am given no unfair advantages.” However, unknown to the official interpreter, one of the Westerners speaks Russian, and later on, in their hotel, he tells the others that what the Nobel prize-winner actually said was, “I won the Nobel prize, and I still have to work in this crappy factory for the same crappy wage. What do you think I think about it?”
Equality is important, but equality of outcome is impossible. People are not equal; we have to admit it. There are people cleverer than me (not many, obviously), more beautiful than me, more graceful than me, more likeable than me. Our gifts are not all the same. To enforce equality of outcome by artificial means – by steering people into places they don’t want to go, or preventing from them achieving things they could be capable of – is to destroy freedom.
The only equality we can assure is equality of opportunity, so that everyone has the opportunity to be free to make of themselves what they choose.
Equality of opportunity, however, is much harder to do than a top-down imposition of equality of outcome. It means that we can’t just say ‘we need more women; if a woman applies for the job, you have to appoint her’. It means we have to actively engage the female population and locate those women who want the job, and encourage them to apply on equal terms with the men. And then, if not many women apply for the job, then we have to accept that it’s probably because it’s not intrinsically attractive to most women and they’d rather be doing something else. The same applies to other minority groups; true equality means allowing everyone to be self-selecting, but making sure that the opportunities are there to be selected. No wonder it’s easier to enforce positive discrimination than to make sure that discrimination of any kind isn’t necessary and doesn’t happen.
Equality means treating people as people, not as the contents of boxes marked ‘male’, ‘female’, ‘white’, ‘black’, ‘Asian’ and so forth.
It matters in writing, too. How many times have we seen either the book or film where every single character is white, in defiance of probability? (ThirtySomethingBride talks about that on her blog.) Or, just as bad, the ‘token black guy’, or the ‘token disabled person’? But how do you manage to get it right? Do you have to do some kind of mathematical analysis of the characteristics of your characters’ social group and work out what proportion should be from which ethnic group, and whether you’ve got enough people that you need to make someone disabled (and if so, what disability should they have)?
Taking myself as an example, since I’ve admitted that I’m writing the world’s slowest-developing novel, one of my main characters is black. I don’t know why he is, but he is. He came into my mind that way, and I knew his history practically from birth. I don’t think I could make him not-black if I tried. I’d have to delete him entirely and start again. So I’ve got five main characters, of which one is female, one is a black male, and the other three are white males. According to Wikipedia’s article, the 2001 census said that 90% of the population of Britain identifies as white. So does that mean I have to make my black guy into a white guy because black people are now over-represented? (Women are different: there’s a reason why the team is only 20% female.) Does this mean that I now can’t add an Asian guy, because even if I upped the team to six, this would mean that ethnic minorities would constitute 33% of the team instead of the correct 10%? Does this count as positive discrimination, and/or unrealistic, and can I be criticised for that?
Sometimes, I think I should stick to something safe and simple, like alligator dentistry. This author lark seems to have more hidden dangers than the Australian Outback.
How do you deal with it? Do you ignore it? Do you consciously add in characters to make sure that your book has all the right ethnic/gender/sexuality/etc groups? Or are you in the happy position that it all comes naturally to you?