Monday, July 16, 2012
Today was the 6th time this year that I've driven a patient to a doctor's appointment through the American Cancer Society's Road to Recovery program. As is the custom, I get the name, address, and appointment details in advance and then usually call the patient a few days before to introduce myself and agree upon a pickup time. I was told that today's patient was a little hard to understand over the phone (I had to leave a message), so I was curious to see what I would find.
I picked up a delightful man who I'll call F. He was indeed a bit difficult to understand as he had a fairly strong foreign accent, so it took extra concentration to listen carefully to him. I asked lots of questions and learned that he was from Nigeria originally, and came over here in his early 20's during the Nigerian Civil War. With the assistance of the Red Cross, he was able to get to England, and then eventually to the US where his family settled in the Washington DC area. He explained to me the problem with corruption in Nigeria where oil money is too often used to enrich individuals rather than develop the country. F. has 5 grown children (a son and 4 daughters), he's a big Eagles' fan as well as a college football fan, and he used to be a bookkeeper for a local company. He was a fun guy to get to know and it was a pleasure to be able to support him with a ride. I'll actually be driving him next Monday as well.
Here's something I've always noticed about people with a foreign accent: too often, I'm embarrassed to say, I find myself treating them as if they're not intelligent. It's as if their inability to communicate easily in English, in my mind, gets confused with their ability to understand things. Obviously I know that this isn't necessarily the case at all. If I were speaking a language other than my native tongue, I might not communicate that well and it wouldn't be a reflection of my level of intelligence. And yet, I too often find myself getting caught in this self-inflicted trap. What usually helps me to let go of this habit is when I ask questions, particularly ones that require insight, and then pay careful attention to the answers. This often helps me to hear beyond simply the halting words that may be offered. I suppose being a better listener is in itself a form of generosity or kindness.