It’s rare to bear witness to anything that truly astounds anymore: An act that leaves you literally speechless, and I don’t mean the faux shock, rabbit in the headlights look of exasperation that millenials use as a go-to. With our recently acquired, as my grandfather would say, ‘lily livered disposition’, many can become collectively ‘triggered’ by the slightest happening.

This triggering has reached such a tipping point that, perversely, universities are now banning the use of the word ‘triggered’ as it may ‘trigger’ those who are easily triggered. Still with me? In its place, they now use the term ‘content notes’ to avoid potentially contentious utterances, as the ageing amongst us scratch our heads and wonder when we began drinking at this puddle of muddle.

TV is dumbed down so as not to cause offence. Radio is edited for much the same reason, and the printed press, despite its decline in the face of online content, remains the one shining beacon in this new world of triggering madness.

But then, having not been surprised by anything for what seems like for ever, I found astonishment where I least expected it, on a show I never watch, but happened upon by chance as I searched for Storage Hunters: Strictly Come Dancing (or ‘Strictly’ as the aficionados call it).

I had no idea who Rose Ayling-Ellis is and have Google to thank, once again finding myself in his/her/their debt, for imparting me with the knowledge that Ayling-Ellis is an EastEnders actress who also happens to be deaf. ‘Deaf’ was to me, just a word, prior to watching the show. Yes, she can’t hear, but it’s to be lauded that she has the confidence to not only enter the show, but to be doing rather well in it, so I’m told. And so, I watched with interest as the routine promised an ‘insight’ into her world of silence.

Giovanni Prentice and Rose Ayling-Ellis during the silent dance. Photo: BBC

Giovanni Prentice and Rose Ayling-Ellis during the silent dance. Photo: BBC

As she danced to Clean Bandit and Zara Larsson’s Symphony, Ayling-Ellis covered her partner (with the perfect holiday romance dance instructor's name), Giovanni Pernice’s, ears with her hands, as the music stopped, and they carried on dancing. For those of us watching, it was astounding and unexpected, despite the ‘warning’ as the realisation of what she has to contend with came clearly into view. How does she keep time? How does she ‘feel’ the music? How does she not miss a step and look so graceful when, with music, the average mortal couldn’t shine a light on her performance? To me, it was educational, and humbling, and really brought home how all-encompassing and stifling life without sound must be, even for a few brief moments. For others, such as my wife, it was an emotionally charged watch, through the perspective of jubilation and admiration as opposed to that of pity.

And, although that was not her intention, I now look at Ms. Ayling-Ellis as an actress who happens to be deaf: someone who doesn’t let her disability define her, as opposed to the other way around, as a ‘deaf actress’. We wouldn’t dare describe others as the ‘one armed leading man’ or the ‘suffering with an underactive thyroid child actress’, which takes us full circle back to the easily triggered plateau on which we collectively find ourselves on.

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If triggered, the solution is thus: Avoid the situation that will likely trigger you and go do something less triggering instead. Or, as in Ayling-Ellis’ case, face the trigger, the trauma, and the detriment, head on and overcome it, own it, or live with it, as opposed to letting it beat you and eat you.

It’s a rare skill these days to change the mind of someone of my age, as ‘stuck in our ways’ is what defines the middle aged. Yet, I can’t remember being exposed to something so powerful as the simple turning off of the volume. It is an act that has given me a much clearer portrayal as to what it really means to live with the loss of a sense. Heck, Ms. Ayling-Ellis may even have converted me into an occasional Strictly Come Dancing and EastEnders viewer, which is quite some feat. The last time I watched the show Peggy was giving some ‘grief’ and a ‘dry slap’ to ‘Fwank’, as Phil and Grant menacingly scared the square witless as they spent their miserable days triggering Walford through the medium of implied violence with the volume turned up to eleven….

  • Brett Ellis is a teacher