We’ve been reading a lot about introverts recently. Susan Cain’s best-seller “Quiet: The Power of Introverts” makes anything but being an introvert sound downright shallow. Who wouldn’t want to be seen as thoughtful and introspective? Who wouldn’t want to be thought of as the kind of person who’d rather have a glass of wine with a close friend than go to a loud party full of strangers? Who wouldn’t want to be considered a good listener rather than someone who hogs the conversation?
Measured by Cain’s Quiet Quiz I am a 100 percent full-fledged introvert. But in my case it has less to do with personality than with the fact that people with serious hearing loss really can’t be anything but.
(Answers are yes or no. The more “yes” answers the more introverted you are.)
Question # 1.:
I prefer one-on-one conversations to group activities.
Many people with hearing loss can’t hear a word in group activities. One-on-one face-to-face conversations are essential for people with hearing loss. They need to read lips and body language, and they need to hear the speaker’s voice, directed at them.
#2. I often prefer to express myself in writing.
Not just often but always. Email and texting have given people with hearing loss a means of communicating on an equal level with those who hear. An email allows them to understand the full text of what’s been said, instead of catching the gist of a rapidly expressed idea.
#3. I enjoy solitude.
Being alone – not lonely, but alone – is the one situation where a person with hearing loss doesn’t have to think constantly about whether they are hearing correctly and wondering what they’ve missed.
#4. I seem to care about wealth, fame, and status less than my peers.
I wouldn’t mind a little more wealth, fame, and status but I’d rather have close friendships and a loving family, and work that interests me.
#5. I dislike small talk, but I enjoy talking in depth about topics that matter to me.
Well, no. In this case, someone with hearing loss may well prefer the social exchanges, because they’re predictable and easier to keep up with. I love a discussion about ideas and controversies, but I’d rather it took place in writing, where I can follow it.
#6. People tell me that I'm a good listener.
Ironically, yes. I don’t hear very well but I am a very good listener. I look at the speaker directly, I pay very close attention to what they’re saying. I ask them to repeat something if I don’t get it. My eyes never wander off to others wondering if they’re having a better conversation, because all my focus has to be on the one I’m having.
#7. I’m not a big risk-taker.
I’ve done some risky things in life. The biggest was probably quitting my steady and promising job at The New Yorker, at 30, to be a freelancer.
But just as important was the decision to put myself and my deepest feelings out there in my memoir of hearing loss, Shouting Won't Help. When I started the book a friend who is a psychoanalyst said, “You’re going to have to write about really painful things. Are you ready to do that?” I’ve always been a private person. And now here I was about to divulge things I’d hidden for decades. I eased into it, I did a lot of writing and rewriting. But in the end I spoke plainly and bluntly about the pain and humiliation of hearing loss, about the cruel indifference of others, about the many difficult situations I’d glossed over in my personal and professional life, rather than confront them directly.
Since the book was published earlier this year I’ve gotten almost daily emails from strangers saying, Thank you for telling my story. You’ve given me the courage to speak up.
8. I enjoy work that allows me to "dive in" with few interruptions.
That’s why I’m a writer. Just me and my laptop. Because of my hearing loss, I don’t even talk on the phone.
Cain’s questionnaire goes on, 20 questions altogether. A person with hearing loss can read them as reflecting the experience of hearing loss: “I feel drained after being out and about, even if I've enjoyed myself.” “I often let calls go through to voice mail.”
Susan Cain has made being an introvert the sign of a thoughtful, intelligent, introspective, creative, generous person. Maybe those of us with hearing loss should think of ourselves as possessing these positive qualities, instead of obsessing on those we don’t have.