Each of us received a “label” from one of the facilitators of the workshop, based on her first impression of us. I got “over confident”. O… K.
I’m still in a bit of a shock. I’ve been to many training programmes, courses, classes, etc, and I’ve never come across one as
damaging shocking as today’s. It was supposed to be a “hearing inclusive workshop” led by Puzzles SG, a cafe that hires people with hearing impairments and also gives customers 10% discount if they were to place their orders using sign language. I wasn’t expecting the workshop to deliver such a punch to the gut, really. It started off extremely well, in fact…
We were taught how to sign the alphabet – A to Z – which is something I’ve learnt in CCA during my Secondary School days but conveniently forgot, save for how to sign my own name. 😀 Then we were led to a table with multiple items laid out on it – Vick’s vaporub, lipsticks, powder compacts, etc, and we were supposed to use sign language to indicate which item we wanted without pointing at the item. I immediately went for VICKS! Five easy letters to sign mah. 😀
Because we had taken a pledge of silence, there’s no talking for 20 minutes. Then we also had to decipher the instructions given to us in sign language, and get ourselves into a row according to date of birth (such confusion!) No one knew what was happening, especially since there were three people born in the month of August, and they had to arrange themselves according to date of birth!
~ The (next) very scary bit about LABELS ~
One of the two female facilitators said she used to be given the label of “bad friend” so she wrote this down on a sticky note. She had been given that label largely because she used to be involved in so many activities and had so many friends that she didn’t really have much time to spend with each person. THEN… *cue scary music* she wrote down for each of us one (negative) label based on her first impressions of us. AND sticks the notes to our sleeves.
(I think the faint-hearted would have… fainted)
She dished out labels like slow, bossy, jealousy, lazy, disrespectful, etc. I think I got away too easy with the label “over confident” which to me, seems to be praise more than anything else. Hahaha! But the elderly lady next to me seemed somewhat affected. She was given the label “slow”. She even tried to defend herself, saying she usually walks too quickly, so it’s probably wrong to call her “slow”.
It was rather horrifying.
Another lady, who arrived late at the workshop but was HIGHLY proficient in signing, was given the label of “disrespectful”. (Might be accurate since she came with a Mr Bean drink. Late already still can buy drink huh? 😛 BUT who would dare to call her out for being disrespectful this way?) Someone’s got balls, man.
Then we were asked to write down a new label for ourselves. I simply decided to strike out the “over” and keep the “confident”. The elderly lady who was given the label “slow” decided to switch her label to “kind” instead. And the “disrespectful” one? She chose “dependable”.
We then got to reflect on how we simply label the hearing-impaired as deaf… and frankly, at this point, I’d shut out their voices already. The exercise had too much of a shock factor for me. Especially when the participant labeled as “lazy” ended up labeling himself as “sensitive”. So the facilitator just called a sensitive person lazy! O.M.G. (@_@) I thought he might have been tearing up, or it could have been my imagination.
Did you know that it takes about SIX positive comments to counteract the effects of getting ONE negative comment? Google it. There’s even an article in the Harvard Business Review.
I think that this activity, if conducted recklessly, is highly dangerous. Plus there’s physical contact when the notes were pasted onto our clothing.
I think the distinction between physical attributes and character traits must be clearly distinguished. When we call someone “deaf”, it merely describes the person’s physical attributes. It’s the same if someone were to call me “old”, “obese” or “fierce-looking”.
But to call someone slow, bossy, lazy or disrespectful, among other labels, that’s not stating a fact; it’s stating an opinion. I’m not sure if the lady called “slow” would take less offence if called “old” instead. ‘Cos she really is old(er) mah. I can only say the facilitators got balls lor.
After the session, the facilitator shared with me that at other workshops, people even broke down in tears because of the labeling. I really do disapprove of this particular activity. Seriously.
The really scary thing is that these are all done on purpose. Now I’m horrified. And I wonder what we, as a society, have done to the hearing impaired community that we have to be shaken up this way. In case you are wondering, the facilitators are part of us, the “hearing”, and they are not deaf. I would really love to hear (sorry for the pun) from the deaf community themselves.
To me, the term “deaf” doesn’t have any negative connotations attached to it. I’m sure lots of people with hearing impairments are highly intelligent, creative, loving, inquisitive, extraordinary in their own ways. If possible, I’d love to interact and communicate with each one I meet.
So I’m not sure why this “labeling” thing is such a big deal. Like I said, I’d already zoned out from the horror.
What I liked about this session, though, is the small group size and the sharing about some of the difficulties that the deaf face e.g. when they want to ask for directions, it would not be as straightforward as going up to a stranger and asking “Is this Lobby A or Lobby B?” And ordering food, for instance, can be problematic when service staff get your order wrong because they cannot understand you.
I suppose most can write down their questions and there are definitely apps to assist.
At the end of the day, I think we can do more. I gave the Puzzles SG crew a suggestion that people who are open to helping the hearing-impaired can wear a pin on their clothing or bags that indicate they know sign language (and maybe even state their proficiency e.g. basic, intermediate, advanced). It would mainly indicate their willingness to assist and also communicate with people with hearing difficulties.
Much as we’d love for the whole of Singapore to be “inclusive”, not everyone will be patient / kind / caring / loving / helpful, etc.
We can start with some merch. 😀
p/s: Read about the previous workshop I attended, which involved leather crafting with Personalised Love. So much more chill and enjoyable. 😀