The Benefits of Being Tone Deaf

90 percent tone of voice  The Benefits of Being Tone Deaf 90 percent tone of voice

In fourth grade they gave me a cello because I was the tallest girl in my class. In fifth grade they look it back because I was hopelessly tone deaf. Which is ironic, because over the years, my tone has gotten me into a lot of trouble.

For years, my husband accused me of having an angry tone to my voice. This was often in seemingly innocent sentences such as “I’ll be right down.” I would argue that it was his perception, that there was no angry tone. Most of the time I believed this, but sometimes I knew in my heart he was right. I don’t know if  I actually sounded angry, but I was often annoyed when he called me away from something I was doing, so it’s possible my voice did reflect an angry tone. I argued that my words were neutral; he argued that my tone was not.  In our house, we didn’t use angry tones when we argued. Angry tones were why we argued.

I think everyone has at times wished they had a tape recorder they could replay to prove their innocence, or someone else’s guilt, over tones actually used or words actually said. The trouble is, there usually is no tape recorder playing, so we are left with our imperfect and often biased perceptions. We seldom consider that our perception may be flawed, that our interpretation is influenced by where we are in life or in our relationships.

I remember an incident years ago. I was near the end of a relationship with a boyfriend because he would not commit himself fully. The final blow was when I made brownies, and he said, “These brownies are almost perfect.” I stewed. He wouldn’t even  commit himself over brownies! It was one more example of how he always held back. The next morning I left for good. The six month relationship was over.

It was years later when I accepted that my interpretation may have been right, but it also may have been wrong. My dissatisfaction with the relationship may have influenced how I interpreted things. In short, his statement about brownies may in fact have been about brownies. This is a humbling experience, because once you accept how subjective interpretation is, you recognize that not only is your perception of events potentially flawed, you are vulnerable to being misunderstood by others as well. When it comes to interpreting things said in relationships, we are all somewhat hearing impaired.

On the other hand, being tone deaf can be a good thing, too.   My older brother often uses a tone with me that he seldom uses with others. Coming from anyone else, I might find it offensive, but coming from him, it is a non-issue. It is not that I don’t hear the angry tone, it’s that I am so certain of the love behind it that I don’t care… I choose not to care.  His tone may be angry, but I know that he is not angry. I call it older-brother-speak, and I am good with it.  That’s the wonderful thing about being tone deaf…. we  have a choice. We can choose to take offense, or we can choose to rely on our knowledge of who the person is and how they feel about us.

In reality, then, there are three tones to each communication: the tone the speaker intended, the tone actually used, and the tone that is interpreted.

When I played cello, being tone deaf was bad, but in relationships, being tone deaf might be a good thing. One thing is certain, there would be a lot fewer arguments  if we were tone deaf to other people, and they were tone deaf to us.

Where’s Maria?

What does it feel like to have dementia? In Where’s Maria, you experience first hand the confusion, anger and humiliation that people with dementia experience every day. Could this be your mom? Could it be you someday?  I don’t remember much before this moment.  I don’t recognize exactly where I am, although this recliner chair fits me like a glove.  A female talk show host on the television is blathering on and on about some burst of insight, but it’s not Oprah and I don’t care for the knock-off, dime store psychology.  The imitation is enough to make me shift in my seat and utter something in annoyance, more of a raspy croak than my usual gentle voice.  I glance to my right and the grey-haired man next to me smiles with his eyes and a tangle of memories are suddenly swept out the corner and set adrift, cascading down in my mind as sparkly as water splashing off of sun soaked rocks. hands  Where’s Maria? hands I feel a flood of joy and break into a face-splitting grin, which is quickly replaced by a concerned and furrowed brow.  He looks surprised as he reaches for my forearm and gives me a gentle pat. “Are you getting Maria off the bus?” I ask him. He continues to pat my arm, turning his attention back to the Oprah Winfrey imposter. Typical.  He never responds to anything I ask the first time.  I guess I’ll have to go get her myself. I start to stand up, my knees grinding in revolt, and somebody rushes from the across the room and pushes me back down into my seat. This actually hurts a little.  I must have strained my back carrying laundry up and down the stairs.  I swear the amount of laundry these kids produce… This lady is pointing her finger at me.  I’m told to stay .  Like a dog-trainer scolding an errant beagle, she says it three times in escalating volume.  Why is she so angry?  The fourth time she is pushing down on my shoulders so hard that I have no choice but to push back. I realize that the bus is almost at the end of our street and, at this rate, no one will be there to meet her.  Sunny must be home with her baby.  I think Shane is at football practice with his son.  Or maybe with his dad.  I can’t keep them straight.  Poor Maria won’t know what to do.  The thought of her standing there, alone, looking lost and afraid, causes me to panic. I am quicker this time, and get to my feet before the lady can bully me any further.  The grey-haired man also protests my actions, reaching for me from his recliner, which makes me really angry considering it’s his six-year-old daughter too. I shout something at Continue reading


For most of us, communication is like breathing; we do it naturally, without thinking. But for people with aphasia, communication can be an insurmountable challenge. Yet, if you listen, if you really listen, you would be amazed at how clear a message can be. 

stroke  Hi stroke1

Some time ago, we were moving residents on an assisted living floor to temporary quarters in the building so their apartments could be renovated.  One of the residents was a 61 year old man who had lost the ability to speak as well as the use of one side of his body, as a result of a stroke. He was able, with great difficulty, to shuffle his wheelchair along.  However, the only word he could say was “Hi”.

He positioned himself by his apartment, which was being prepared for construction, and kept trying to enter it.  He was clearly agitated and kept saying “Hi, Hi” over and over again to everyone passing by.

One of our staff followed him into his apartment – an immaculate area with beautiful hardwood floors.  Over the next hour, our staff member and this gentleman communicated, and by inflections, eye and hand movements and many “Hi’s,” we understood that he was extremely concerned that his floors would be damaged during construction. We assured him that his floors would be protected, and he smiled.

A week later, the renovations were complete. In spite of the many signs and warnings left for construction workers about protecting the floor, there were scratches and dirt everywhere.  One Moving Solutions staff member got Housekeeping on the phone and asked, “Can you get up here, stat?” while other team members assured the gentleman that his floors would be fixed properly.

For the next three hours, the floors were swept, mopped, waxed and waxed again. By the end of the afternoon, they were beautiful. Our staff escorted the gentleman back to his apartment, where the floors shone and everything was in place..  He looked at them, smiled, gave a thumbs-up sign with his good hand, and said loudly and joyfully, “Hi.”

I am always proud of Moving Solutions staff, but sometimes they humble me.