As a deaf person, particularly as a deaf person that was subject to people putting them down at various episodes of my life, its difficult sometimes to see jealousy. I mean, jealousy that I’ve got a nice house or a nice partner, yeah, thats fairly straightforward, and not really what I’m talking about here: what I’m discussing here is a form of professional jealousy. Some people have a very specific form of  professional jealousy that can be quite difficult to pin down, as the emotions engendered tend to result in them behaving slightly differently to the usual behaviour triggered by straightforward jealousy.

When you work with hearing people, a wide range of them, who are on their own journeys and who may be at different stages in those journeys to you, one problem that you may come across is that they can be jealous of your capabilities. This is particularly the case if you’re achieving on the same level as hearing people, just as well – or better than – them. The thinking may go something along the lines of “my god, look at them. They achieved XYZ, and they’re deaf, and look at me, my ears work, I’ve nothing wrong with me, and they’re better than me”. Sometimes this may not even be this clearly thought out, sometimes its just an unconscious, ugly, angry emotion that they feel when they see you and they don’t quite know how to handle it. It can result in behaviour that is geared, in a very subtle way, sometimes, towards trying to bring YOU down, because if they do that, then they feel better as a result. A lot of negativity, discouragement, anything to get you to be worse than them, to stop you being better than them ‘despite’ your deafness¹. An example might be, when you’re waiting for a specific result, getting all kinds of snide, negative comments instead of hopeful, supportive ones. The difference between constant rephrasings of ‘so many people apply, be prepared to be rejected’ and ‘Good luck! I’m sure you’ll succeed, but have you got a back up plan if you don’t?’ and then not mentioning the backup plan again once you confirm that you have one. You can see the difference.

[Sometimes it can result in even more aggressive, angry behaviour, although within an educational or professional setting, this should certainly be the point where other people (such as Human Resources) are turned to. If you’re at this stage, don’t go with the suggestions in this article, DO get the appropriate authorities involved.]

So… what to do when you’re confronted with this kind of behaviour?

Much depends on how close this person is to you. If they’re just a classmate who you can easily avoid outside of the classroom, then problem solved, just avoid their company and refuse to take the more negative comments on board (which is easy enough, once you understand what’s behind them). Blocking them on social media is another option, if you find that many of their comments are coming through that way, particularly if you find yourself getting angry with them – why waste the effort in being angry? Block them and have done with it (and there are even different levels of blocking, if you’re worried about them seeing that you’ve blocked them or defriended or whatever, some of which won’t be visible to them).

But if they’re someone who you genuinely like, admire, who you’d otherwise like to spend time with, or someone who you have to spend time with for work purposes, regardless of choice, then what? This can be particularly tricky if the jealousy is appearing in someone who seems to swing between the jealousy and admiration. I have a friend like that; she openly admires the work I do, is friendly and wants to spend time with me, but every so often, she comes out with these terribly negative comments. They picked up in intensity before the PhD result came through, which is what first clued me in. I like her, mostly, when she thinks consciously about it, she’s very supportive about my work, she read through my PhD application and made a number of very useful suggestions, for example. Its just these little snide asides. I noticed the other day, that I was starting to unconsciously avoid her, or get a sinking feeling when I saw them coming towards me, which is a shame. So. What to do?

The way I see it, I have a couple of choices:

  1. Talk to her about it. I wouldn’t phrase it as ‘jealousy’, or even in the terms that I’ve used here. Maybe something like ‘I’ve noticed you don’t seem terribly happy about XYZ. Do you want to talk about it?’ may be good. This is particularly the case where you don’t think they’re even aware of it, bringing it out into the open like this may well work, particularly if they’re a friend that you think you can talk to on this level. On the other hand, it can spectacularly backfire, so be very very careful if you decide to take this path.
  2. Ignore it and wait for them to get past it. It may be that you don’t feel able to talk to the person on the first level, or it just isn’t possible because of institutional relationship rules (e.g. they’re your supervisor). Gritting teeth and just ploughing through is the tactic here.
  3. It may be that deliberately mentioning things that you struggle with would work. Such as, if you’re struggling with a piece of work or with networking or something. You certainly don’t have to do this; arguably, this is a bad move, as in, you’re not giving them the chance to grow and to account for their own emotions. You’re certainly not responsible for theirs, or anyone else’s personal growth (or lack of it). But if on the other hand, you do a little diplomatic fumbling with something, or show yourself as being NOT the super-capable-super-student that they think you are, it might just make your life a bit easier. And I don’t think anyone would blame you for that. I know I wouldn’t. Along the same lines, taking the time to praise them for things that they do, particularly if they’re doing it better than you, is another good tactic to use.

In my own situation, I think I may well be adopting a combination of 1 and 2. give 2 a chance for a while, and if it continues, move to talking to her about it. But either way, I doubt that this is the last time it will arise. And I do wonder, if sometimes this happens far more than I’d previously realised. I blogged last year about feeling very excluded at a postgraduate meeting, how many people there didn’t speak to me at all. Whats interesting is that those people, over the last year, as I’ve persisted in attending these meetings and other postgraduate events, have split into two groups. One group are those that have made an effort to engage with me on one level or another (e.g. find out what my research is, who I am), even if its only on a very minimal level and they’re keeping it strictly professional. I certainly am not deluded enough to think that everyone should be my friend! The other group are those who have just ignored me. Other than polite hello, goodbye, and so on, they’ve made no effort to talk with me, even when I’ve tried to strike up a conversation. There’s not many in that group (I would say, perhaps 3 or 4 now) but still, it was enough to make me wonder why, when they didn’t really know me at all. This kind of jealousy may well provide an answer to at least one or two people’s behaviour there.

I do think that ultimately, this kind of jealousy is a kind of backhanded compliment. Jealousy – of all kinds – is something that everyone has to learn to deal with, both in other people and in themselves, and in education as well as in the workplace, particularly if you’re suceeding, and doing so better than your hearing colleagues. There are quite a few articles out there about professional jealousy in both education and the wider workplace (which this is a form of). If you find that this article doesn’t quite offer the solution to your situation, then maybe try to adapt what others have suggested. And remember, if the jealousy gets out of hand, get others involved (authorities, not your friends), and document everything you can.

Further information: Jealousy in PhD Cohort / Addressing Envy in Grad School / Overcoming Jealousy in the Workplace / Seven Tips for dealing with a jealous co-worker

¹ And by the way, I do think this problem isn’t unique to deafness; people with other disabilities, or even other factors that can hold them back, can experience the same thing.

unthinking disabilism in higher education

A PhD position became available recently, connected to deafness. I had a look at it, but decided it wasn’t the right sphere for me, that I didn’t have the right skills for it, so I passed it on to our postgrad community in case anyone there fancied it.

I was asked several times why i didn’t go for it, as I’d be perfect for it.

They didn’t say this on the basis that they thought that my skills, knowledge and discipline made me perfect for it.

They said it on the basis that I’m deaf, and it’s a PhD connected to deafness.

This actually made me quite cross, because it is disabilism, pure and simple. it takes no account of me as a person, my skills, and reduces me down to one thing and one thing only: my deafness. And here’s the thing – they didn’t even see that it was ablist, that it was prejudice. It wasn’t malicious in any way – I suspect they’d be dreadfully upset if they ever read this, that they had inadvertently been so prejudiced – but … fact remains that that is exactly what they’ve done.

Imagine suggesting to a black person that they’d be perfect for a PhD examining skin colour in some way? Or a woman that they’d be ideal to study the effects of oestrogen? Or a transgendered lesbian that they should study the impact of sexuality in transgendered people? Or a Catholic that they should study the troubles in Ireland?

It would be very frowned upon, of course, all of these. People would – quite rightly – be upset and disgusted.

So why should it be acceptable to suggest that someone should do a PhD incorporating deafness purely on the basis of their disability?

Please don’t misunderstand. I am not by any means suggesting that people should not do those things. That the black person shouldn’t study skin colour, that the woman shouldn’t study the effects of oestrogen, and so on. If they CHOOSE to do so, that’s up to them. It’s a matter of choice.

I don’t choose to study deafness. I feel that for me it is the obvious route and that I want to study something totally unconnected to my deafness. That is my choice, and I have a right to make it. If others want to study something connected to their deafness, then that is their choice, and I support and applaud their right to make that choice.

But for me, or anyone, to be encouraged to study a field purely on the basis of their ‘label’ – be it gender, skin colour, religion, sexuality, – or, yes, disability – is just wrong. It suggests that they aren’t capable of more. That we should stay within our sphere, because that’s where we belong.

And that makes me very, very angry.

I’m much more than just my ears. much, much more. I should be free to study as I wish, to the best of my own skills and capability (which is very capable), just as anyone who is hearing is permitted to do.

It makes me very, very sad.

It makes me realise that there is still far too much work to do to educate people, even people in higher education settings. Rightly or wrongly, I expect more from them (and these suggestions came from other PhD students, not members of staff). It makes me sad that these intelligent people can’t see further than their own experience, their own privileged life.

It makes me very, very determined.

If nothing else, it makes me more determined not to go the ‘deaf’ route, to opt for studying deafness in my field in some way. I’m happy to facilitate education for others, to aid with deaf awareness etc. But I want to study what I will be studying, and my path will not change.

It makes me determined to do my bit to educate other people. It makes me determined to make the institution realise that they are failing their staff and students in not providing disability awareness. It needs to change – and it will change.