I gotta say, this week’s ISL class was exceptionally dull, except for that bit when we’ve gone through the signs for the world’s countries (it appears that the ISL sign for Zimbabwe kinda looks like that thing they do on “Walk Like an Egyptian”.) Also, I found myself surprising the missus that there’s actually a sign for “Macedonia” in sign language. A few months ago, I couldn’t even sign “Greece”.
Usually, I find 3 out of 5 classes particularly indulgent: Ethics, Sign Language, and Deaf Culture. Like I said, SL rocked, but Ethics was rather a snore and Deaf Culture, for the first time, was also kinda dull. Maybe I was just tired, but I just couldn’t relate to the “theme” Gal, the teacher, had in mind. We were supposed to be two opposing (and apposing, now that I think of it) juries in a trial where the defendant is the Deaf Culture. Cool concept, but unfortunately, at the onset, Gal simply abandoned it and simply turned the trial into a class discussion. We’ve basically reached some very old conclusions that didn’t enhance our knowledge at all: the Israeli Deaf are aggressive, callous, crude, direct and frankly, a bit rude and often insolent.
These are facts that both the Deaf Community and the Friendly Hearing (and I think CODAs fit into that category like a glove) conceded a long time ago and normally don’t give it much thought (nor is it a knot in anyone’s knickers. There, I finally found use for that phrase!). Since Gal is the one who brought it up, nobody can say that we were assaulting the deaf “unprovoked”. I always thought that the Deaf are somewhat ruder and more impertinent than the Hearing simply because they tend to be intellectually isolated from the Hearing population, and that leads them to a sort of collective social retardation, easily alleviated by education, exposure and inoculation of the right social skills. This is probably still true, but Gal gave another explanation which I find simply fascinating and elegant:
Deaf people, like all people, are in a constant state of ignorance. To mitigate that ignornace, we ask questions, imitate, go to school, read books or even find out for ourselves the things we don’t know. Even though research and books and even schools are excellent tools for getting smarter and better, there is little subsitute to social immersion, and that, unfortunately, is the great bane of the Deaf experience. As Helen Keller succinctly put it: “Blindness distances you from scenes, Deafness distances you from people” (I paraphrased it a bit, since I couldn’t find a citation I can trust).
The problem for the Deaf, Gal explained, is that for the most part of their lives, they’re disconnected from the most important means for alleviating their horrible affliction: they’re lonely island of silence. Because of that, once they’re finally grouped together, capable of injecting in a hordes a cornucopia of (often trivial) details, they grant no quarter when they’re finally allowed a lively exchange of information and ideas. Sure, the internet allows the Deaf to communicate, sure, signed TV exposes the world to the Deaf, but there’s nothing that can replace the raw trade of ideas, feelings and interactions that exists in one-on-one communication (by the way, this is passionately animated by the new Israeli Deaf trend of using Webcams for conversations.)
So the explanation elegantly explains the cultural “vices” of the Deaf: you insert this kind of psychological pressure, that horrible affliction of social isolation, on members of a society, and you will not find yourself surprised if they skip the formalities and just fire away whatever it is that they want to ask or know. There’s no time for trying to figure stuff out behind people’s back (thought that obviously happens, too), you can’t call the other guy to affirm what was just said, you’re very much confined to the social event, which usually takes place about once a week, and you have the make the most of it at the minimum of time.