#OliveSource-Faking It by Nancy M. Williams

Photo Credit: “Bert and Ernie: Life is great when you’re next to me” by See-ming Lee via Creative Commons.

Photo Credit: “Bert and Ernie: Life is great when you’re next to me” by See-ming Lee via Creative Commons.

#OliveSource is where we feature guest posts from inspirational and interesting figures. Keep checking our blog to see more guest posts in the future!

What the Bert and Ernie Letter Songs Taught Me About Faking and My Hearing Loss

Fakers.  We all know they’re out there when it comes to hearing loss. Of course, it takes a faker to know one.  

A man stops my daughter and me on the street.  Traffic zooms behind him, the roar rushing into my hearing aids. “Hleiof lskjafj flto Bloomfield?” he asks. I surmise, with the bus shelter nearby, that he must have asked, when will the bus come for Bloomfield?

“I’m sorry, I don’t know the bus schedules,” I say.

The man gives me a perplexed look, shakes his head, and walks away.      

“He didn’t ask you about the buses!” my daughter says.

“He wanted to know which way is Bloomfield.  Why didn’t you just say, I didn’t hear you?”

I could only shrug my shoulders in reply.

An audiologist first diagnosed my mild, high-frequency loss shortly after I turned six. I got my first hearing aid at 12, and then for the next several decades tried not to notice while my hearing slowly slid down the audiologist’s chart to its current position: a moderate loss, sloping to severe in the high frequencies.  I have years of experience living with hearing loss and wearing hearing aids, and I now speak on claiming your passion despite hearing loss. Yet I would rather fake my way through a discussion of Bloomfield and buses than make it plain to a stranger I’ll never see again that I have difficulty hearing.

I remember when Bert on Sesame Street sang that zippy song about the letter W: —“it’s not any trouble, you know it’s a double-u, when you hear wuh-wuh-wuh-wuh!” As the head of the National Association of W Lovers, Bert savored words like walrus and wiggle, but the letter W makes me think of the dreaded word what, as in WHAT did you just say?

After the episode on Bloomfield, I reflected on my daughter’s question. Why do I not let people know when I cannot hear them? Why do I keep on faking it? And I came up with three key reasons.

Reason #1, Laziness.  Of course, my husband, teenaged son, and middle-school daughter are aware of my hearing loss.  But I’ve never actually called a meeting during which my family and I would establish certain guidelines for communication in our home.  For example, don’t talk to Mom from another room because she won’t be able to hear you.  Laziness—and by that I mean not summoning the gumption to address my need to hear—explains part of my propensity to fake.

Reason #2, Loss. By loss, I mean not only the loss of hearing, but also emotional loss.  In my early 40s, I went back to the piano, and sometimes I still feel stunned by the bliss I experience when I play. The piano is my passion. Thanks to several music settings on my hearing aids, I hear well enough to perform, but sometimes I yearn to hear the piano’s every note, and all of the dulcet, accompanying overtones, with simply my own ears.  To consider how the piano might sound without a hearing loss is breathtaking to me and also painful. Sometimes I don’t want to remember that I have a hearing loss, because connected to it is the loss of the piano. Faking seems like a preferable alternative.

Reason #3, Love.  I have arrived at the true nexus, my fear that if I cannot hear, my loved ones will reject me. My teenaged son speaks loudly when he knows I don’t have on my hearing aids first thing in the morning, but sometimes he becomes exasperated. That’s natural, yet in my darkest moments I worry, if my hearing loss gets worse, will he still want to confide in me?  After 23 years of marriage, my husband still gives me a smitten look when we make dinner together, but will he still be attracted to me if I become dependent on him for activities that require hearing? The answer to these questions is a resounding YES, but still I worry.  

I realized that I fake so often that the strategy has become routine, even subconscious. In faking, I deny my hearing loss and by extension myself. I saw that when all of us with hearing losses are in denial, the consequences are more fundamental than misunderstandings about buses and Bloomfield. When we cannot come to terms with our whole selves, than we cannot fully live our lives.  

A far better approach is to summon courage. I want to have the courage to tell people I can’t hear them, to ask them to speak up, to request accommodations such as loops and FM systems. My hope is that all of us with hearing loss will have the courage to combat laziness, face losses and claim the love that belongs to each and every one of us, no matter the state of our ears.

Laziness, loss, love.  Bert and Ernie also had a song called “La La La Letter L.” Ernie sings, “The letter L lights up your face.” So out with the W-song! In with the L-song, the song of love, love of ourselves, including our hearing losses.


Nancy M. Williams is a hearing health advocate and a strategic marketing consultant to hearing health companies. In her advocacy work, she delivers motivational keynotes on living and working with hearing loss and serves as the founding editor of Grand Piano Passion™, the online magazine which celebrates making music despite hearing loss. In a profile of Ms. Williams, The Wall Street Journal extolled her “valuable lessons…for your soul.”