Sunday, February 20, 2011

Understanding the Importance of Language & Culture, The Humanity of Respecting Diverse Populations, and the Deaf Community.

Why should deaf people exist?  Why should we care?

(For a preview to this paper, please see my previous post)
This is a query that is morally and ethically disturbing but necessary to address. First and foremost, the question should not be, “why should deaf people exist?” but rather, “why should deaf people not exist.” Furthermore, why should any human being not exist or be appreciated for their cultural heritage, for their language, for their having a life on earth? This is the short answer to the query at hand, which leaves one with ponderings of all of the above questions. But it would be imprudent to leave one to musings alone without any other answer. The above questions will be answered by focusing on four main elements: first, the various definitions of a human within humanity; second, basic monotheistic religious beliefs; third, the societal perspective of disability; and fourth, the existence and richness of the language and culture of the deaf. So I will now ask a question once more, its focus being that of the definition of what deaf person is first and foremost – a human.

Starting with the simplest, yet most complicated of questions, what is a human? The Oxford American Dictionaries1 defines a human as being “a person as distinguished from an animal or (in science fiction) an alien.” Even with this definition, full understanding of what it means to be human is not gained. In turning to the thesaurus, which also comes from the Oxford American Dictionaries, there are many synonyms given to suggest further meaning of the word human. All synonyms are used as adjectives, words describing imperfection, compassion, as well as the form of a human. Let us look to the first two sets of synonyms, first being imperfection.

Humans are not perfect. This we can all agree upon. We, as humans, are “imperfect, vulnerable, susceptible, erring, [and/or] error-prone.”1 In recognition of this fact, we can then realize why we do not always give every other human being on earth, in America, in our own state, even leading to giving humans in our own community, the respect they deserve for their history, culture, language and for being a fellow human being. However, this fact describing human in imperfect forms is not justification for disrespect, belittlement, or pity upon another group of humans. Acknowledging this fact, for one-self, allows us as humans the opportunity to change what can about how we choose to live our lives and how our lives affect others. Taking advantage of this opportunity, upon self-acknowledgment, allows us to do the humane thing and treat each other with the respect deserved. In reference to acts of humanity, we can now look to the next set of synonyms, which is initialized with the word, compassion.

Humans have the capability of being compassionate. This too we can all agree upon, because compassion is a characteristic that can be learned and chosen to be utilized. Compassionate is at the front of the second set of adjectives; adjectives which are synonymous for the word human, and focus on words that are humane in nature. Words such as, “compassionate, humane, kind, considerate, understanding, sympathetic, tolerant; approachable, accessible.”1 Interesting, is it not, that a word originating from the word human is used as an adjective for “…showing compassion or benevolence?”1 Let us delve further into our thesaurus and see what some other words are for humane. Synonyms for the word are,

“compassionate, kind, considerate, understanding, sympathetic, tolerant; lenient, forbearing, forgiving, merciful, mild, gentle, tender, clement, benign, humanitarian, benevolent, charitable; caring, solicitous; warmhearted, tenderhearted, [and] softhearted.” 1

Listed also in the thesaurus are antonyms as well; humane has a solitary antonymous word: “cruel,” remember this antonym.1 One could then imply from the given differing verbiage that humans would be humane since they are connected via verbal origin. Yet it seems that if that truly were the case, we wouldn’t even be wondering why we, as people whom are a part of a community, society and population, are asking a question about a group of people who are oppressed by audism.

If humans are as humane as we’d like to be in understanding the value of another person and who they are, then we would not be questioning the importance of their language, culture, heritage and even their living existence. Do not misunderstand the meaning here, please, question another’s heritage, learn of their history and language; but question why it is important that another group of people exist and especially exist peaceably? The thought, in and of itself, is inhumane. Thoughts lead to actions, and therefore we can account for the cruel and inhumane actions that arose from these types of thought. What then, can assist us in the prevention of everyday cruelness to our fellow human beings? The answer then lies in the un-solidified and ever-changing nature of morals, ethics and philosophy.

It seems the most obvious standard of morals and ethics, taught to a vast number of the worldwide population, would be the basics of religion. A few of those basic principles will be addressed in order to describe the equality of all human beings. The majority of religious people believe that there is one divine creator. Call the creator what you will, however, for this purpose the creator will be referred to as God.

God created the world and all things in it, the first chapter of the first book of the Bible, Genesis, accounts for this.2 There are multiple notations in the Bible, and other religious books, of the past and present populations being sons and daughters of God. For example, in the book of Psalms, chapter 82, verse six reads, “…all of you are children of the most High,” in this context, the most High2 Here we recognize that we, as humans, have more in common with each other than just being of the same species. We recognize that the same divine being created us all, God created us all. refers to God.

In recent years, modern-day spiritual leaders reiterate this basic principle as we view ourselves as the offspring, or creation of God, “Man is the child of God, formed in the divine image and endowed with divine attributes.”3 In this quote, man is used to refer to all human beings, male and female. Aside from that, however, note the last phrase of the sentence and how we, as children of God are endowed with divine attributes. Many interpretations can be made from this, but no matter how it is interpreted, it literally means to be given qualities or characteristics that are set apart for each individual. So, while we were all created by God and share that as a universal similarity, He created us to all be different, to be unique people. Do the differences God created us with, give us justification to not “…love one another?”4 What is it, exactly, that causes look down upon others who are different from ourselves? How different, really, are deaf people from hearing people? Why are the Deaf so oppressed? In a blunt word, commonly associated with medicine and law, they are disabled.

Disability is the highlighted topic in Joseph P. Shapiro’s book, No Pity, which presents many points of view concerning ideas about disability and the experiences of people who live with it. People with disabilities make up a large part of what is considered to be diversity among the population. In specific reference to the disability movement, which didn’t even emerge until the 1970s, diversity is a central characteristic.5 Shapiro presents the common treatment of those who have disabilities, “[they] have been a hidden, misunderstood minority, often routinely deprived of the basic life choices that even the most disadvantaged among us take for granted… [and] … the struggle is far from over.”5 It has been over 40 years since the conscious emergence of new civil rights disability movement. Has significant progress been made? Do we really understand where our framework, for what disability It is a psycho-social effect which takes place as we are raised in society, influenced by the media, and by those people immediately around us. means, is coming from?

Shapiro goes into further detail about the psycho-social effect in chapter two, “The Social Construction of Disability.” Critical for understanding here is the point of influence, as we develop into contributing, adult, human beings, – society and culture. They are the two largest influences on how we, as a population, see what disability is and how we treat people with disabilities. We have to deconstruct what society and culture have influentially constructed and re-learn how to respectfully and ethically treat disabled people. We have to realize that every person, no matter their race, sex, physical or mental abilities, deserves to lead a life that is accessible to them, in every way, shape, and form; especially, the Deaf community. They deserve that as well, in maintaining the value of the existence and the richness of their language and culture.

The Deaf community exits in a system of biocultural diversity. According to Luisa Maffi, biocultural diversity is “…life in all its manifestations – biological, cultural, and linguistic ...”6 As language and culture are directly related, it is imperative to understand – one cannot communicate fluently in another language without the knowledge of their culture. Furthermore, it is also imperative to understand – one cannot interact fully with the people of a culture without the knowledge of their language. The concept of language, and culture is not universal. It doesn’t matter where a person is, the language and culture are going to be different from what they consider to be “home”. This type of diversity, like most, is to be appreciated. There is “…a ‘moral imperative’ to preserve diversity and to strive not for uniformity but for unity in diversity.”7 Not only is there a moral imperative to preserve that language and culture of the Deaf Community, but there is an imperative in a historical sense as well so that future generations can learn from our social and societal wrong-doings as well as rejoice in the justice we are working towards in appreciating various cultures, especially the culture (and language) of the Deaf. Comprehending diversity, especially biocultural diversity, “…should contribute to our understanding that diversity in nature and culture makes us human.” Having the understanding of diversity in nature and even in our and other cultures gives us the ability to recognize that all people are human and should be treated equally. The Deaf community are humans and deserve to have a life that is of equal opportunity and should be allowed to live up to their fullest expectations. We have shown the various perspectives for equal opportunities of the Deaf, using these four main elements: first, the various definitions of a human within humanity; second, basic monotheistic religious beliefs; third, the societal perspective of disability; and fourth, the existence and richness of the language and culture of the deaf. All of these elements, individually, show that the Deaf are important members of society and are crucial to not only their own culture but ours as well.


Top, edited, photograph:

1. Oxford University Press, Initials. (2011). Oxford american dictionaries, Retrieved from
2. Bible – King James Version
3. First Presidency, "The Origin of Man", Ensign, Feb. 2002, 26
4. John 13:34
5. No Pity Introduction, pg 11
6. Linguistic, Cultural, and Biological Diversity journal, pg 602
7. Linguistic, Cultural, and Biological Diversity journal, pg 603

~Written by Holly E. Ferrin, Deaf Studies Senior~

© 2011 Holly E. Ferrin

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