Patience or Presence: A Reflection on Qualities

Rhonda Jacobs, CI and CT, Maryland
Spring 2010, Volume 27, Issue 2

I am sometimes asked by prospective interpreters about the qualities an interpreter should have in order to work with deaf-blind people. The questioner often assumes or has been taught that patience is an essential quality. Although in the standard view this may seem appropriate or accurate, I prefer not to use the term “patience” as it implies that things should be different than what they are, perhaps faster or meeting a different set of norms, that they are not how I would like them to be or am used to them being. Patience seems to imply an “effort” of some sort, like one has to do something to “have patience.” This lends a somewhat negative connotation, as if one would rather be doing something else. “Gosh, you’re signing so carefully and taking such a long time to interpret that concept; you must have a lot of patience.” So how should things be?

Instead of patience, another way to look at an interpreter’s way of being and doing is to have a quality of presence, to “be with”—to be with what is happening, to be with people where they are and how they are. A subtle difference, but one that shifts perspective from something negative—things (perhaps you or me) ought to be different, but since they’re (or you’re) not,