See Things Differently

This post is about a man's experience as a staff man at a New Warrior Training Adventure for the deaf/hearing impaired.

The post lives at Brian, Dancing Bull's blog.

The ManKind Project strives to be inclusive of all men; deaf, blind, not deaf, not blind, gay, straight, religious, agnostic, atheist, political, not political, etc.


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Bravehearted Old-faithful Wolf

From Brian-Dancing Bull

"See things differently" by John S., one of my warrior brothers.

There is something I would like to share with you guys about the Mankind Project weekend that I staffed over November 3-5, 2006. Here is the article "See Things Differently" written by John S., one of my warrior brothers as below:

"When I got home Sunday night after the November New Warrior Training Adventure, my wife asked me the usual question: “How was it?”

“Humbling” I told her.

Like all training weekends, there was magic happening everywhere at the training site. Among the staff, among the initiates, and around the circle.

But this weekend was different.

Among the 32 new initiates, 9 men were deaf or hard of hearing. Two staffers were deaf, and 4 were hearing men who served as interpreters.

Throughout the weekend, men who can hear saw a world of expressive communication most had never seen before. And the deaf and hard of hearing men experienced an acceptance ­– no, something more – an embracing love many had thought didn’t exist.

It was humbling. But it took a while to find that feeling. Like most of the other staffers on the weekend, I checked in with fear at the first staff meeting.

Actually, that fear began back in September. When I learned the weekend would include deaf men.

You know how it is. The Voice kicks in. “Oh, that’s going to be weird. Maybe I shouldn’t do it. I don’t know sign language. Everything’s going to be different. I might feel uncomfortable.”

I held on to that burden for weeks. Every few days I’d consider stepping off the weekend. I struggled with the fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear that I’d make mistakes. Fear that I’d be left out.


(You knew this was coming)

At the first staff meeting, I discovered I was wrong.

I cherish the mix of excitement and camaraderie that permeates NWTA staff meetings. Especially the first Monday meeting. When the men who have spent weeks getting the training organized come together for the first time. Men shift in their seats. Look around the circle. Clear their throats. Some laugh. Some hug. Men acknowledge others they know. And size up those they don’t.

This time, staff men talked about their uncertainty. Because of the deaf and hard of hearing men on the weekend, things would be different.

The weekend leaders shared their ideas about how the weekend might change. How would the deaf men get to the training site? How will music change during the weekend? How would we greet men as they arrived? How do we handle the communication in low light, or darkness?

It was clear there were a lot of unknowns. And that was good. There was an excitement among the staff that we’d be called on to improvise, be flexible, learn as we go. And that felt comfortable to me. As if it relieved the burden I’d carried about having to do everything right. If there were no rules, I couldn’t fail!

And then Greg G. kicked in. He introduced us to a deaf staff man, Brian D. I swear to the Universe, I felt a warm blanket of calm float over me as soon as Brian smiled and started signing to us. Man, what a presence he had. I was transfixed by his expressions, and the graceful choreography in his signing.

Greg and Brian led us into a process of beginning to understand the deaf and hard of hearing world. Each hearing staff man put in ear plugs and then we stood in the circle and tried to interact with each other without speaking. We fumbled, wandered, and waved our hands around trying to show an action or intention. It was a bit chaotic.

Afterwards, nearly every hearing man said he felt a lot of fear during the process. Some felt alone, some confused, and many felt angry.

I said I felt left out. Isolated. As though the deaf men knew more than I did. And Bob Beare expressed his feeling so well amid his tears when he said: “I knew I could take my earplugs out and stop my fear and confusion. These deaf and hard of hearing men can’t.”

I realized that feeling of isolation had floated around in my head in the weeks leading up to the training. Both for myself, and for the deaf men on the training. But as I let myself be in the moment more and more, I realized the dual nature if my expectation. I laughed at the irony. These guys had an extended communication that I could only vaguely touch. They talked with their hands, their faces, their entire bodies. My isolation quickly transformed into awe.

Communicating an idea between a speaking man, an interpreter, a signing man and back again takes much longer than communication between two speaking men, or two signing men. There was a lot of discussion among the leaders and interpreters about how to handle each step of the weekend with the deaf men.

The leaders embraced the idea of integrating all men in the group, rather than separating either deaf men or hearing men. As a staff member, I expected that integration might confuse people, but the opposite was true. I saw more emphasis on communication. And I realized how often we throw away words, or speak over each other so one man’s words are drowned by another’s. I became acutely aware of the limitations of spoken words, and the fluency of body language.

With both signing and speaking happening simultaneously, it seemed everyone paid more attention to meanings behind their words. The leaders were mindful of slowing down as they talked, looking at each man’s face, allowing their eye contact to linger a bit longer. It was a startling reminder of the power of non-verbal communication.

In fact, throughout the weekend, I often felt I learned more from watching the signing men than I did from listening to the speaking men. Many times I found myself staring in amazement as the interpreters worked. Or I’d be lost in a deaf man’s graceful, eloquent expression.

I know what a trip it is to close my eyes and let myself flow to the words and music during parts of the weekend. But I wanted to tell the hearing men to open their eyes and watch the interpreters instead!

I think what we all learned the most is that it wasn’t a weekend about deaf guys. It was a weekend that included deaf guys. We all learned new ways to stretch beyond our limitations, face our fears, embrace our strengths, and let go of the judgments we make about people we think we don’t understand.

I’ll be staffing an I-Group that includes signing men and speaking men. The I-Group leader told me one of his goals it to make it fun. I like that. I’m learning signs for all kinds of feelings and intentions. We’re brainstorming ideas for transforming what used to be spoken-word experiences into visual and sign-based experiences. It’s going to be a whole lot of fun, with plenty of imaginative learning for all of us.

And so, humbly, my journey continues."

John S.

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