When I was a kid, I always laughed along. I didn’t even know I did it. I survived by copying faces. Someone was upset, I’d make sympathetic faces while they spoke to me. Someone was excited, I’d let out a little excited yelp too.
I didn’t even realise I did this until I was in my late teens. And when I did, it occurred to myself that I was doing myself a disservice. By copying faces, it gave people the impression that I understood what was being said. If instead, I gave them a quizzical expression, I’d be more likely to get an actual explanation.
I set about trying to break my habit. It’s deeply ingrained. I still do it sometimes, but mostly I try to be more honest about when I have and haven’t understood.
But it’s really difficult when I’m standing in a group, say, of people I don’t know that well, but whom I hope to get to know and want to make a good impression on. They’re all laughing. If I stand there, blank-faced, it feels incredibly rude. But it’s also often not right to interrupt them and demand that they explain, especially if we’ve only just met. And yet, if I laugh along, that gives them the impression I understand, and it doesn’t let them know that if this relationship is going to work, I’m going to need a bit more information.
It’s tricky. I don’t have an answer for how us Deaf people should handle this situation. I just wanted to raise some awareness about it.
But, if you’re with a Deaf person and the group starts laughing, maybe you’ll consider leaning over to explain.
If you’d like to do your bit to help raise awareness, feel free to share this post. Thanks!