Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The "Mute" Writer

Mute: A mute is a person who does not speak, either from an inability to speak or an unwillingness to speak. The term "mute" is specifically applied to a person who, due to profound congenital (or early) deafness, is unable to use articulate language and so is deaf-mute. The word "mute" comes from the Latin "mutus" meaning unable to speak. - Source: MedTerms Medical Dictionary.

For the past four days, due to illness, I have been mute.

It started off with me picking up what I thought was flu or a common cold that has clung to me like a scab on a wound and gone from strength to strength until it has now affected my larynx and consequently my voice. For the past four days I have thought what it must really be like to be mute - or deaf-mute.

Firstly, whilst I am fortunate in that I am still able to hear, I am reminded of how isolating it is not to be able to talk. I can whisper, obviously but it's a huge strain and when I begin to whisper I stop midway and wonder why I even bother. Being mute has made me realize how difficult it is to communicate with people who have a voice. I have felt that while I have so much to contribute to the conversation I am imprisoned in my own body and mind and now understand how frustrating this is.

Secondly, I remember attending a class when I was studying - on disabilities - about how we as humans tend to discriminate against people who are not like us. One such fieldwork project was to go out and interview people who are generally discriminated against, due to their disability. My interview was with the president of the deaf-mute society where I lived at the time.

I found it difficult to make conversation, not because of the person I was interviewing, but because of my own inability to communicate in his language (sign), yet he was able to communicate in mine by reading my lips, interpreting what I had said and replying to me in broken nasal sentences.

Needless to say, I was ill prepared for the interview and embarrassed at my own misgivings. He, however was more than prepared and willing to work with my short-comings and even lead the interview for a while.

I was amazed at his interlect - ironically I guess my own preconceived idea that a deaf-mute person would be unable to study the way I had or get ahead in life the way I had, had restricted me from the realization that physical disabilities have nothing to do with interlect. Indeed, this man was unable to study the way I did or get ahead in life the way I did - he had to work so much harder than I did. He had so many more stumbling blocks to overcome than I did - in particular having to prove to people that he CAN do exactly what everyone else can, if given a chance.

After interviewing this man, he asked me this question... "I notice that you speak with an accent, where are you originally from?". I was blown away because this man was totally deaf and had never heard a person speaking and certainly should never have picked up that I had an accent.

Not only was he reading my body language and my lips, but he was also reading the inflictions in my voice and the accent that my words were producing. How amazing is that?

As I sit here contemplating my own frustration about not being able to talk, I am reminded about how lucky I am to have a voice and how lucky I am to be able to hear and communicate without effort. I am humbled by the deaf man who puts up with people like me every day, yet grateful that he never once discriminated against me.

Have you thought about who you tend to discriminate against and how your behavior impacts their on lives? Would a behavior change in yourself make a difference, and if so are you prepared to change your outlook?

Feel free to leave a comment.

~ Vanessa


  1. Morning(from Aus)Vanessa (and Kim)

    I really, really like this post. It certainly gives another perspective and reminded me of something I wrote in Vietnam:

    Alongside the bridge that leads to Ngoc Son Temple sits a man, his face very badly disfigured, tapping away to gain attention in order to sell souvenirs. My initial reaction was one of sorrow, of pity. I thought about this man again in my waking, jetlagged hours and my feelings for him turned to those of admiration. How could I pity a man who is facing the world, facing his fears, and shining a light for others? When one sees beauty in another, their own beauty is reflected.

    And this is what I see in you from your words. What a beautiful person you are.

    I want to write more but I can't go back and re-read the post :(. I'm in the comments only section. But you get my drift ;).

  2. Thanks for your kind and powerful words, Shelley. You were spot on in your observation of the disfigured man - if only more people could interpret the world in this way, it would be such a better place!

    ~ Vanessa