For Christmas, my daughter bought me a set of hearing aids. Now, I was born with defective ears, and when I was very young, I think around 8 years old, I tried hearing aids … this was back in the late 1950s when hearing aids meant a box strapped to the chest with wires leading from the box to big, bulky pieces in both ears. Well, long story short, they didn’t work out for me and the audiologist said that my particular hearing problem could not be resolved with hearing aids. As I aged, the problem grew worse and today I am about 95% deaf. But, with the improvements in the hearing aid technology in recent years, my daughter thought it was worth a shot. Her order was delayed, so it was a late Christmas present, arriving just before New Year’s, and a complete surprise to me, for while we had talked about it, I had no idea she had actually ordered them.
With eager anticipation combined with a bit of trepidation, I tried them on … and … WOW!!! I never knew our front door squeaked! I didn’t know that a toilet flushing made noise! Had no idea that my keyboard was so LOUD! I can hear the kitties cry! I can hear Natasha clearing her throat and Chris snuffling! One day I was in the kitchen rinsing off some dishes when I heard voices behind me, even caught some of the words, so I swung around, for I thought I was alone in the house! It was the neighbor kids walking through my backyard on their way home from school! I heard them through closed windows and a wall!!!
Needless to say, I am a happy camper! Yes, there are a few negatives, like sometimes there’s just too much noise between the television (if Chris is home), three people typing on keyboards, the cats scratching in the litterbox, the furnace running, the washing machine spinning, etc. And my own voice sounds overly loud and somewhat mechanical. But the positives far outweigh the negatives. Last night, I noticed something different. For the first several days, I marveled constantly about the things I could hear that I had never heard before, but last night when I took the hearing aids out for the night, it was the silence I noticed. I did not hear the water running, did not hear the furnace nor the cats. I think this means that I have gotten so used to wearing the hearing aids, to hearing sounds, that silence is no longer my norm, but rather the aberration.
Which brings me to my point, in case you were wondering if I had one. We become conditioned. In this case, I spent nearly 72 years being unable to hear, depending on lip reading, closed captioning, and otherwise just nodding my head and smiling, but it took me just over a week to become conditioned to hearing everyday sounds, and then silence became the anomaly. Here in the U.S., we have become conditioned or inured to gun violence, to bigotry and racism, to corrupt politicians, to wealthy corporations enjoying the fruits of our labour, to the poor and homeless living hand-to-mouth. If asked to think about those things, we do and we are horrified, but on a day-to-day basis, we simply don’t think about them because they have become the ‘norm’ just as surely as my hearing running water is now the norm. Every day there is a new horror and we learn to skim the news and simply turn a blind eye, get on with our own lives.
Humans are adaptable creatures … throughout history humans have evolved, have adjusted to meet the circumstances of the changing world. In most ways that is a good thing, a necessary thing for our survival as a species. But when it enables us to simply accept the unacceptable, perhaps it is not such a good thing. When our senses become dulled to the horrors of children being killed in schools, of police killing Black people at a higher rate than white people, of politicians favouring the wealthy over the rest of us, of homeless people living on the streets, then our adaptation to the new norms puts us on a path set to destroy the very things that make us ‘human’ by definition.
There are many things that we must adapt to in order to survive in this world, but when gun violence becomes the acceptable norm, when each set of elected politicians is just a little more corrupt than the last, when people are shunned and abused because of the colour of their skin, their religion or sexual orientation, those are things that we should never accept as the “new normal”. If we allow them to, then future generations, our grandchildren and and their children, will pay for our apathy. If we want the world to be a better place, then we have to change it and we cannot change it if we are willing to simply accept what is wrong.