His hearing is fine.
But auditory neuropathy runs in Robin Hoopes’ family.
“Even though the ear might be registering sound,” he explained, the auditory nerve “fires out of sequence” and the message that’s supposed to be delivered “doesn’t quite get there.”
Hoopes will give the featured address today at the 10:30 a.m. Mother Father Deaf Day observance at Springfield’s Covenant Presbyterian Church.
The program also calls for special guest Kristy Thompson to sign songs at the 8:30 and 10:30 a.m. services, including “Let There Be Peace on Earth.”
Now the dean of sciences at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, some here may know Hoopes from his days teaching in the American Sign Language and Deaf Studies program at Dayton’s Sinclair Community College.
He was teaching there 12 years ago when his deaf daughter was born. But his experience with family members who are deaf started in childhood with an aunt, then continued when he helped to raise a nephew who had moved to Hoopes’ home in Cincinnati to attend St. Rita’s School for the Deaf.
“I raised him from the time he was 11,” said Hoopes, “and he’s 35 now.”
But that’s not all. Along the way, Hoopes also practiced law and went to Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., the nation’s premier academic institution for people who are deaf and hard of hearing.
“They will allow hearing people (to study) if you’re fluent,” Hoopes said.
And though he is fluent in American Sign Language, he said he doesn’t really know what it’s like to be deaf, that is, being unable to hear all the time.
“It’s hard for hearing people to imagine what it’s like to go through everyday life in which you hardly understand anybody and every communication problem is different.”
A parallel might be trying to get around in a wheelchair in a city without curb cuts.
Hearing people who have traveled abroad where few speak English and then hear the language and immediately want to talk with the speaker have a small sense of what that’s like, he said.
That’s one reason why “when deaf people meet one another or get together with other deaf people they already know, there’s an immediate and visceral connection. There’s an instant sort of brotherhood, an instant sort of knowingness between them.”
“There is that human need to connect effortlessly,” he said. “It’s like water in a desert, that interaction.”
It’s one reason he said those who really want to do something for deaf people should learn to sign. When they do, he said, “the desert isn’t quite as barren.”
But he hesitated to send people into that desert who are intent on a rescue mission. The way he puts it is this: “It’s important that you treat them not as somebody you’re helping, but somebody you serve.”
Hoopes said the book title “Mask of Benevolence” defines the problem: That some people get into positions of helping to serve their own needs rather than to serve others.
I don’t really object to what he’s saying. Feeling sorry for someone is something like assigning them a disability. Then again, a more healthy kind of empathy is required for anyone to want to help at all.
The thing is, though, I think there’s a learning curve for people who aren’t hearing, or ethnic or racial minorities to learning that lesson. And I think mutual respect itself grows, or at least deepens, only as people get to know one another better. And the process on the road to that can get short-circuited if we’re too hesitant to try.
That’s why it might be well that Mother Father Deaf Day is held in a church. It’s a place where making that journey is something people often have on their minds. It’s also a place where people recognize that all need forgiveness for mistakes we inevitably will make along the way.
Of course, the central figure in worship at Covenant is someone who really got the servant part right, though with perhaps certain advantages.
The rest of us, it seems, have to do our best to understand one another through a system of human understanding that seems an awful lot like auditory neuropathy.
“Even though the ear might be registering sound,” the mechanism sometimes “fires out of sequence” and the message that’s supposed to be delivered sometimes “doesn’t quite get there.”
In a human family that for generations has been hard of understanding, we still have to try.
As one of the songs that will be signed this morning puts it: “Let there be peace on Earth and let it begin with me.”