Organizing Dialogue, Experience and Knowledge for Complex Problem-Solving

a way to support flow?

February 8th, 2007

I tweaked my thumb somehow – a possible overuse injury. Reports (I now see) go back at least to 2005. :-/
I began wearing a splint this week to immobilize the thumb joint. Of course it is my dominant hand, so my signing appears a bit backwards (or worse) as I attempt to switch dominance by fingerspelling with my left hand and using my right as base (except when I can’t figure it out quickly enough, and revert back to dominant right, until it is clear my thumb is sticking out at an angle that obscures meaningfulness, when I switch back). I suppose it as if I suddenly became both aphasic and lispy at the same time: comprehensible, but with effort. sigh
Most of the conversations about ‘what happened’ occurred ‘offline’ – before or after an interpreting gig. Once, though, it happened during a small group discussion: one deaf and four non-deaf student completed their assignment with a few minutes to spare. Silence reigned for several seconds, with members looking around, shifting a bit in their chairs, waiting. One of the non-deaf students finally asked me, “What happened?”
I looked to the deaf student, hesitating. So many choices! “The rules” indicate I should ignore the direct query. Interpreters are not to be addressed directly by users (clients, consumers) during a job. We are working. The deaf student is gazing elsewhere….do I seek her attention? Ask permission to answer? “Interpret” the question so that the deaf student could answer on my behalf – since we had already discussed it?
I decided, instead of emphasizing the breach, to simply answer the question. For the next minute or so a round of teasing and questions went around with at least as much interactivity among all five of the students (and – yes – me too) as had occurred during the preceeding ten minutes. The deaf student was quite involved, possibly even more involved, than she had been previously. I was surprised at the change: perhaps the illicit nature of engaging the interpreter colluded with the illicit discussion of non-class related trivia? My involvement was on/off as I interpreted the interaction (sign-to-voice and voice-to-sign) and responded with answers/comments that only I (as the injured party) could provide; within thirty seconds I had fully returned to non-participatory status and was ‘only’ interpreting.
As most dynamics go, this all happened very quickly. In that blip of milliseconds when my instinct to check with the deaf person was thwarted, I considered that the entire group had functioned effectively, inclusively, and had in fact completed their assignment. There was no reason in that precise moment not to respond to the student’s question – except for a literal application of an inflexible boundary standard.
Funny, huh? We (interpreters) respond to such side comments from deaf consumers frequently (often without giving it a second thought). But if the comment is from a non-deaf consumer….tsk tsk! See how much background and rationalization I have already provided to fend off premature judgment? The event was random, circumstantial: the group was done. The deaf person was looking elsewhere. The question was directed at me because of something unusual that invited curiosity. The topic felt safe because it was not about interpreting, how I got involved, what Deaf people are like. It was, I felt, an honest question asked at an appropriate time in a respectful way.
So I answered.

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Categories: Interpreting

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