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Attitude Determines Altitude
by Elizabeth Rutherford

As the process of actualization continues to evolve in my life, I recognize the significance of attitude and how it has impacted my well being. My former "this hearing loss is MY problem" has now become OUR problem. My vacant smiles have become smiles of warmth, appreciation, and happiness. The whole issue of attitudes surrounding hearing loss was put forth in a dynamic presentation, Attitude is Contagious: Is Yours Worth Catching? by Pat Hughes at the Edmonton conference.

So what is this elusive term "attitude" that we all know can make or break any situation? Hughes described attitude as "more than a state of mind". I discovered it is certainly more than what meets the eye. It is this incredible depth of being human, a way of life, who we are , our very soul and spirit. No wonder when we have all these elements and more at play within us, things can become confusing; we can become ambivalent; we can experience all sorts of feelings; we can act or react; we can stay stuck or soar to new heights.

All these responses bring me to another point in the presentation: we can choose our attitude. I believe in choices. I also believe attitudes are the father of our decisions and actions. One person may say, "Let’ find out". Another may counter that with, :Nobody knows. "I was wrong," versus "It wasn’t my fault". One attitude may be, "I’m good, but not as good as I ought to be", while the other would say, "I’m not as bad everybody else". Or, there may be a better way to do something versus that’s the way it’s always been done. One may explain; the other explains away. One commits; the other promises. One goes through a problem while the other goes around it or never past it. Our choices simply determine if we stay grounded or if we fly.

Not only the choices, but also the ways in which we respond to the world around us are manifested very subtly in our attitude. How? The words we utter, the content, form only a very small percentage of the meaning or the understanding of the message according to Hughes. She used the analogy of e mail in which words alone give meaning. But is this the whole meaning or message? Do words tell us everything we need to know? Words need to be chosen very carefully, she says, because they form only a small part of the message. To some communication pundits, the non verbal expression carries 87% of the meaning. Others say 93%. At any rate, non verbal communication has a very, very, large influence on our attitude. What meaning do we derive from a message in which the speaker is nodding his head, yet saying, No? Or for example, someone says, Yes, I’ll do it, yet the facial expression conveys the message of fear or unwillingness. We need to be aware how our attitude leaks out to others through our non verbal channels of communication.

In addition, hard of hearing people tend to smile often in tandem with nodding. In some cases (I have been there!), these two stances are not congruent: the smile is vacant, the nodding affirmative. Do we send mixed signals or messages to those with whom we are communicating? How do they interpret our attitude in such a situation? Smiles are powerful, Hughes says, so we need to be aware how and when the resulting messages leak out. Do we walk the talk? This is another indicator of congruency. For example, if I say I will advocate for hearing loss issues, I will show interest, I will get involved, I will participate in the process. However, if I sit on the fence and allow others to do the advocating, those actions are not congruent with my words. Hence, an attitudinal issue arises. What messages would that action be signaling?

Attitudes can become very complicated and problematic in our communications and our responses. They can also be very positive, if we choose. I like comparing the dynamics of attitude with making a quilt. One needs to choose the combination of fabric and color and HOW each piece is placed in relationship to all the others very carefully. The correct choices will enhance the quilt; inappropriate choices will dull the colors and hide the original beauty. In communications, the content, the channel of delivery, and in sum our attitude is indeed a revelation of who we are. What is remarkable, we do have the choice every single day what attitude we will embrace. We have no control over how others will respond, we cannot change the past, and often there may be only one string we have to play on, and that is our attitude today and in the future. Use it positively.

I hope my attitude is worth catching. It has helped me reach higher altitudes!

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