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When “Never Mind” Goes Both Ways

Stephanie Booth and I share a pet peeve: being told “Never mind, it’s not that important” after an individual repeats themselves a few times. Most people give up on trying to speak to hard of hearing people like us with that line.

I always get upset when I am told that “it’s not that important” because, to me, hearing every single thing people have to say is a gift. After fighting for my hearing through ten surgeries, I have learned to never take the spoken word for granted. Whether it’s listening to what other people have to say, or hearing enough to form your own opinions, spoken words have always been a treasure to me. Being told “never mind, it’s not that important” takes away my joy in hearing other people and my chance to stand up and form an opinion. This small phrase cuts me deeply, and makes me feel isolated.

I remember telling my mother this when she said that phrase to me. After hearing it from her constantly, I finally lost my temper and said, “It’s important to me! I want to hear your words and decide for myself how I feel about them!”

From my perspective, it felt like another instance of bigotry against hard of hearing individuals. In response to that view, Mom mentioned that most people are often self-conscious about their speech and sometimes embarrassed to share ideas. If they are asked to repeat themselves, they shut down and say “never mind” because they feel their words and ideas are stupid and hate to hear more than once. It was a problem that especially hurt my mother because, like me, she spent her whole life being called stupid.

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Where we differed, however, was that I pushed back against anybody who questioned my intelligence and she took on “stupid” as her nickname. This difference made her perspective seem like an excuse to hide behind a problem that should be conquered. Another person’s poor self-esteem or fear of seeming stupid should not have been my problem, and things from that perspective made me angry for a long time.

My view on “never mind, it’s not important” changed, however, on a fateful evening when I wanted a snack.

This change cannot be understood unless I confess a love for an unusual food that leaves people asking “why do you like that so much? Isn’t that gross?” To me, it does not seem gross, weird, or unusual to love eating French fries straight out of the freezer.

I got into the habit of it while teaching my last boyfriend how to cook French fries in oil. Safely reaching the proper temperature would take at least ten minutes, and out of boredom, I decided to try a frozen fry. To my surprise, it was delicious! It still had crunch from being kept in cold temperatures, but the flavor was much sweeter than fries cooked in oil. Immediately, I was hooked, and I began eating frozen French fries as snacks, even when I was not cooking them a side dish for dinner. I wanted to enjoy frozen fries without judgment, so every time I ate them, I made sure to do it in secret.

On the evening my view changed, I was looking for frozen French fries in the freezer when my mom came in earlier than expected to make dinner. Not wanting her to know or be grossed out, I immediately switched to the fridge, looking for something to replace my craving. Shortly after, I told myself “dinner will be on the table shortly, just go sit down and forget about the fries.”

Mom heard all my rustling though, and asked, “What is it you were looking for? Do you want me to help finding it?”
I found myself saying the biting words, “Never mind, it’s not important.”
I was surprised when Mom’s face fell, and she said, “Think about how that phrase sounds when you’re speaking with someone. That’s how I feel when you say it right now. It makes me feel like you’re saying it because I cannot see that well and sometimes have trouble finding things in the fridge.”

Suddenly, I found myself in the other person’s shoes. Now I understood the embarrassment people felt about their own little quirks, phrases, or in my case, bizarre cravings. Any rage I had, or presumptions of bigotry, went out the window as I felt myself getting flushed. It never occurred to me that my mother could feel the same way because of how much she struggles with farsightedness. Bespectacled individuals are far more common than those of us with hearing aids, so I did not think they would understand the limitations and prejudices of a less common and more isolating disability. The moment Mom mentioned her upset, I knew I had to say something.

“This is gonna sound so weird, please don’t judge me,” I said, “I really wanted to eat some frozen French fries. They’re really tasty.”
“That’s not weird at all. They’re at the bottom of the freezer. I used to eat them all the time.”
I ventured to the dinner table with a fist full of frozen fries. Dad came along right when I was snacking, and Mom asked him, “Do you like frozen fries?”
He responded by saying, “yeah, they’re good.”

Having walked on both sides of “never mind, it’s not important” I see now why people hide behind that phrase. Sharing a part of yourself you find “stupid”, whether it’s a silly phrase or a weird snack, is a scary thing to do. We all have moments of feeling self-conscious about different things, whether they come from a lifetime of being called stupid or frustration with the bigotry of others. Keeping those things a secret, however, limits your ability to interact with others.

I want to know what other people are saying, and I want to be able to share weird things like eating frozen French fries. Being vulnerable is an important part of living, and what makes a relationship, whether familial, platonic, or romantic, possible. While I now understand why people say “never mind, it’s not that important”, I still want them to tell me, if only to get to know them better. After all, how can someone get to know and love the real you if you tell them that any part, even the ones you think are embarrassing, are “not that important”?

Christina Lisk
Christina is a 21-year-old with hearing loss. She has been writting for the Phonak Open Ears blog since 2014.

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