Words do matter.
There are words used to refer to PWDs that hurt their sensibilities, but which those of us who are non-PWDs are often not aware of. Among them is the phrase “deaf-mute”. Reminiscent of its 18th-century English usage, it implies that the deaf are always silent and without a voice, thus, could not communicate at all.
Another related term is “deaf and dumb”. It does not only mean deaf and silent; it also means deaf and stupid. The association goes all the way back to Aristotle who thought that deaf people are incapable of being taught and bereft of reasoning. Because they can’t speak, they can’t learn.
Nothing can be farther from reality. The deaf are not silent nor dumb at all. While words are important, these are not the only means to communicate. The deaf communicate through sign language, vocalizations, lip-reading, etc.
The problem lies in the connection between speaking and hearing. Most if not all deaf people have functional vocal chords. But since they could not hear any sound, they could not modulate their voice. In order to properly pronounce words, one needs to hear one’s or someone else’s voice. Without that link, no vocalized words are properly produced. Without hearing, no words in their usual pronunciation could come out.
It is significant that in the Gospel, Jesus heals the man’s ears first, and then the evangelist Mark wrote:
“his speech impediment was removed and he spoke plainly.
I know of a president who hardly listens, who has problems with hearing, thus, also had problems in speaking. Many times he fails to hear the questions of reporters. This difficulty, he explained it to them, was caused by a motorcycle accident long time ago. That is why he pushes his thumb into his ear to help him hear.
But sans the physical disability, Duterte has demonstrated time and again his inability to listen, to listen to others.
I doubt if he listens to the other voices in the Cabinet or among his advisers. He always has Bong Go at his side, at his beck and call. But Bong Go is not another voice. He is either a naïve servant or a willing slave.
I doubt whether he listens to other sectors of government for checks and balances, as any democratic society presupposes. When he extended martial law in Mindanao, he said: “This martial law will continue. I will not listen to others. The Supreme Court or Congress, they are not here.”
What I am sure of is that he does not listen to positions other than his own, to different opinions, to alternative voices. He never listens to critics – the European Union, the ICC and the UN, the human rights advocates and political rivals. He declares them persona non grata, cancels their visas, deports them, or sends them to jail.
I also doubt whether he listens to the groans accompanying rising inflation (highest in nine years), skyrocketing prices of rice or its dearth of supply. I doubt whether he listens to the cries of the poor run over by his TRAIN Law. Because if he does, he should have solved the problem of rice cartels as he answered Jessica Soho during the election campaign: “Sus, Maam, yon lang? I will do it in three days!”
Does he listen to people’s hunger? “Mahirap kayo? Wala akong pakialam. Mamamatay kayo sa gutom!” I also doubt whether he listens to those who have to survive the Manila traffic. I seriously doubt whether he took it to heart when he promised to solve all these problems “in three to six months”. Nganga!
Moreover, he does not surely listen to the sighs and wails of mothers and widows, of the cries of hungry orphans left behind by the war on drugs. Instead, he promised in the last SONA that: “The illegal drugs war will not be sidelined. Instead, it will be as relentless and chilling, if you will, as on the day it began.” He has never heard the plea of Kian: “Tama na po. May pasok pa po ako bukas.”
Archbishop Fernando Capalla, once his good friend in Davao, said: “We have to listen twice as much as we speak. But with the President, it’s the reverse… That’s why we are in trouble… I am worried about him as a friend. I think he has a problem and we need to help him. He is in the course of self-destruction, without even knowing that he is ruining himself.” “If he can only listen… listen to other people,” the good Archbishop added.
But because he can’t listen, he can’t also speak well. He speaks of violence and aggression. He speaks of death and killing. He speaks of rape and misogyny. He speaks of profanity and blasphemy. He speaks of many things, but of rambling nothingness. Most of it is filth and trash – that can’t even pass the Board of Censors or MCRTB, if they still function in this government.
In the end, I wonder who is the real deaf-mute. Who is the truly deaf and the real dumb?
An old English nursery rhyme is a good reminder for all.
A wise old owl lived in an oak
The more he saw the less he spoke
The less he spoke the more he heard.
Why can't we all be like that wise old bird?
St. Vincent School of Theology - Adamson University