You Have to be Deaf to Understand

You Have to be Deaf to Understand

What is it like to “hear” a hand?

You have to be deaf to understand.

*

What is it like to be a small child,

In a school, in a room void of sound —

With a teacher who talks and talks and talks;

And then when she does come around to you,

She expects you to know what she’s said?

You have to be deaf to understand.

*

Or the teacher thinks that to make you smart,

You must first learn how to talk with your voice;

So mumbo-jumbo with hands on your face

For hours and hours without patience or end,

Until out comes a faint resembling sound?

You have to be deaf to understand.

*

What is it like to be curious,

To thirst for knowledge you can call your own,

With an inner desire that’s set on fire —

And you ask a brother, sister, or friend

Who looks in answer and says, “Never Mind”?

You have to be deaf to understand.

*

What it is like in a corner to stand,

Though there’s nothing you’ve done really wrong,

Other than try to make use of your hands

To a silent peer to communicate

A thought that comes to your mind all at once?

You have to be deaf to understand.

*

What is it like to be shouted at

When one thinks that will help you to hear;

Or misunderstand the words of a friend

Who is trying to make a joke clear,

And you don’t get the point because he’s failed?

You have to be deaf to understand.

*

What is it like to be laughed in the face

When you try to repeat what is said;

Just to make sure that you’ve understood,

And you find that the words were misread —

And you want to cry out, “Please help me, friend”?

You have to be deaf to understand.

*

What is it like to have to depend

Upon one who can hear to phone a friend;

Or place a call to a business firm

And be forced to share what’s personal, and,

Then find that your message wasn’t made clear?

You have to be deaf to understand.

*

What is it like to be deaf and alone

In the company of those who can hear —

And you only guess as you go along,

For no one’s there with a helping hand,

As you try to keep up with words and song?

You have to be deaf to understand.

*

What is it like on the road of life

To meet with a stranger who opens his mouth —

And speaks out a line at a rapid pace;

And you can’t understand the look in his face

Because it is new and you’re lost in the race?

You have to be deaf to understand.

*

What is it like to comprehend

Some nimble fingers that paint the scene,

And make you smile and feel serene,

With the “spoken word” of the moving hand

That makes you part of the world at large?

You have to be deaf to understand.

*

What is it like to “hear” a hand?

Yes, you have to be deaf to understand.

*

~Written by Willard J. Madsen (Professor of journalism at Gallaudet University in 1971)

*This poem was translated into seven different languages and reprinted in publications.

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4 thoughts on “You Have to be Deaf to Understand

  1. I remember this one! It takes me back to the 1980s and essential to keep it alive at all times. But perhaps I should mention here that hearing children of deaf parents experience likewise as equally being culturally immersed into the sphere of multi communications.

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