Saturday, June 14, 2008

Which of the senses would you give up?

In an outbound team-building exercise that I took part, we were split into three groups of five members each and marooned on three different “islands”. Members of Group A (of which I was a part) had their feet tied together and were ‘immobile’. Members of Group B were deaf and dumb and gagged and fitted with ear-plugs. While those from Group C were blind-folded. The objective was to get the members of Groups B and C from their islands that were about to be deluged, over to Island A, in about 45 minutes. Vital information on survival tools was available only with the deaf and dumb, and needed to be communicated to others through sign language..

The pressure and the intensity could be experienced, thanks to the build-up provided by the coordinator. And, finally, of course, we could empathise profoundly with the challenges of being disabled in any manner.

Later, we were discussing which of the disabilities was more “preferable”, under the circumstances, if we had been given the Hobson’s choice. Obviously, we could not come to a consensus. Each had its own drawbacks and a silver lining. And, for us, it was only a temporary disability. Those of us who were blindfolded could still be made to visualize, by providing graphic description. The deaf could lip-read as they had the language skills.

What about those unfortunate ones who are born with such infirmity, in the real world? Does being born blind pose more challenges than being born deaf? Or, is it the other way?

In an absorbing article called “A deaf world”, Oliver Sacks says:

“Whether deafness is ‘preferable’ to blindness, if happens in later life, is arguable; but to be born deaf is infinitely more serious than to be born blind- at least potentially so. For the prelingually deaf, unable to hear their parents, risk being severely retarded, if not permanently defective, in their grasp of language, unless early and effective measures are taken. And to be defective in language, for a human being, is one of the most desperate of calamities, for it is only through language that we enter fully into our human estate and culture, communicate freely with our fellows, acquire and share information. If we cannot do this, we will be bizarrely disabled and cut off- whatever our desires, or endeavours, or native capabilities. And indeed we may be so little able to realize our intellectual capacities as to appear mentally defective.”

Beethoven would never have managed his musical feats, had he been pre-lingually deaf. He was ‘lucky’ to have developed deafness, only after he was 26 years old, and had developed the ‘ear’ for music.

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