When attending college in the Interpreter Training program, our instructors always emphasized that the most important factor in being a good interpreter was our attitude. It didn't matter how skilled an interpreter was, if they didn't have an attitude of respect and empathy, then they would have difficulty working within the Deaf community. As I mentioned in my previous blog, empathy occurs, or grows with time, as experiences help increase understanding and alleviate misconceptions. Of course, a basic desire to be respectful and a belief in equality are essential in building empathy; thus our attitudes dictate our ability to be empathetic. If we are judgmental and closed-minded, how can there be room for empathy to grow?
It's difficult to identify the aspects of our own attitudes. What does an attitude of respect mean? What things have shaped our attitudes? How often do we look at this fundamental part of our personality? In this busy world that we live in, it's challenging to take time for self-improvement and self-analysis. Yet it is only by really understanding who we are and having the awareness of our beliefs, attitudes and behaviours that we are able to take a step toward change. Awareness precedes change.
Sometimes, we just need to hear or read a comment to make us stop and think; a statement that forces us to look internally. For example, as I was preparing to enter the interpreter training program I was reading a novel entitled "Seeing Voices," by Oliver Sacks, which gives an overview of the Deaf community. I read, "A Deaf person is more alone in a room full of hearing people who are not signing, than when they are truly alone".
This comment made me reflect on those times where I had done just that; not signed a conversation even though there was a Deaf person in the room. I would justify this by saying, 'well they are not looking at me', or 'it's not anything important so I can quickly tell the other person and I don't need to sign it.' But after reading this statement, I realized that this justification and thought pattern was disrespectful. If I truly had an attitude of respect and equality then I needed to be mindful of these types of situations and make sure I do not behave in this manner, to always strive to sign whenever a Deaf person is in the room, no matter what. This is especially true when the person is deafblind; they would not know if a person was signing or talking, so it would be easy to have a conversation and they wouldn't even know, thus being purposely left in the dark. How can this behaviour foster trust and respect? Obviously it can't.
By doing this simple respectful action, I show my friend or colleague that I value them. If they happen to glance over and take in part of the conversation they can jump in with their comment, etc. just like anyone else could by overhearing a conversation. It starts to play with the dynamics of power and control; when I talk and do not sign this takes away someone else's power. If I control what parts of a conversation I relay and which parts I don't this is even more impertinent – this is not how I want to be and I dislike this innate power I have as a sighted, hearing person.
I can only imagine the constant exposure someone who is Deaf or deafblind have with hearing people who have an attitude of indifference or show behaviours of discrimination or ignorance. This general attitude stains a person's heart and leads to stereotypes about hearing people. Just one intervenor who acts in a judgmental and controlling manner can taint the view of the profession as a whole and lead to distrust.
I know I have not perfected this and it's only one example of how I can foster an attitude of respect but I will make every effort to be mindful of my actions as I know they are the roots of positive change.