|About the presenter: Chris Roach, a forty-seven-year old native Texan, has traveled to over 45 U. S. states and numerous countries. His eclectic career of crisis management, banking and litigation consulting has taken him into simple rural middle-America settings and into the sophisticated urban business cultures of billion dollar companies. Having engaged literally thousands of individuals from all walks of life, he's accumulated fascinating observations of mainstream life, a journey particularly adventuresome due to his lifelong stuttering.|
“Psst! Hey, you -- the stutterer. Come here. I’m gonna tell something you need to hear. You won’t hear it from your family … or your friends … or even your support group. But you’re gonna hear it from me, your little Internet buddy.”“Okay, ready? Come closer… sure you’re ready?”“NOBODY WANTS TO HEAR ABOUT YOUR STUTTERING!!”“What?! That’s not what you’ve been told? You say you’ve been taught to always disclose your stuttering? To educate everyone you meet about stuttering?”“Well, you’re right. You should tell people about your stuttering but they really don’t want to hear . . . ”“What? You say you’re totally confused? Insensitive! Me? Okay, just relax and let me explain. You’ve got a lot of catching up to do…”
Stuttering is a powerful force in our lives with its flailing tentacles. Like an octopus, stuttering crosses the spectrum of opposite perspectives. At one end, it’s a hideous creature lurking beneath the ocean’s surface, primed to engulf any fool who sets foot in the water. The fear of such doom is enough to avoid the water at all costs, to never view what lies beneath.
At the spectrum’s opposite end, this odd-ball sea animal is merely another mysterious being among the ocean’s grand world. The eight-legged freak is a harmless annoyance to be respected but not feared, while exploring the ocean’s infinite vastness.As stutterers, our fundamental view of life closely mirrors the analogy of the octopus and the ocean. Regardless of our degree of disfluency, we must decide where we are on this spectrum of life. Content to remain on land and never test the waters? Or driven to leap headfirst regardless of the consequences? Perhaps, you’re in the middle – longing to set sail into uncharted waters, but scared that stuttering will tether you to the dock. Your greatest fear is not of stuttering’s choking tentacles but rather a life unfulfilled. Let’s journey together to find normalcy and success in the mainstream of our modern world, taste the joys and rewards offered by life’s conventional opportunities, and travel a path alongside thousands of others in full acceptance – all while talking a little funny!
What do we really want?
As stutterers, what is our true goal? A cure? Better fluency? Smarter tricks to hide it? I submit that our top goal has nothing to do with our speech. I believe we want most the opportunity to earn acceptance.
Throughout my life as a stutterer, I’ve wanted most (and admittedly still do) to be considered “normal.” I want to be viewed as capable, stable, and competitive as anybody else, regardless of disfluency. Consequently, what motivates me most as a stutterer is the fear of being considered unequal simply because of my speech. The dread of diminishment and dismissal is the fuel that drives my fears. (But isn’t that the same for anybody?)
Okay, I hear what you’re thinking. Why does he let what others think about him control him? Poor guy -- a prisoner to his insecurities. What an ego!
Wait a minute! Who said a thing about “what others think?” Read my words again. “…acceptance…to be viewed as anybody else…considered anything less than normal…diminishment…” Whose opinion do I value most? Who am I trying to impress? Me.
I care what I think about me! To expect anything less than normalcy from myself would be an inexcusable infidelity. Ironically, though, the twist to this challenge for self-acceptance is best found through the eyes of others.Huh?! That makes no sense, you say. In order to feel good about ourselves, we must get others to feel good about us? But you thought I said I don’t care what others think about me? I care only about what I thought about myself? No, not quite, but keep reading. You’ll start to understand soon.
I learned in youth that the most rewarding times had a common denominator. Conversely, life’s most shallow times shared the same ingredient. What is that common linchpin? Simple – people.
When my actions made a positive difference in the lives of others, I soared! Through striving to improve a condition, right a wrong, or soothe a rough edge for another, I found value and growth. No matter how minor or massive the stage, I discovered that my test of worth came from making a difference in the world around me. I also felt the painful sting when I failed to respond to another in need or chose to aggravate another’s plight because of selfish apathy or insensitive competitiveness.
Beyond intentionally harming another, I believe there will be no greater accountability than for the crime of waste. To neglect the pursuit of one’s potential is the ultimate sin and one we stutterers must particularly be vigilant to avert.
So you think I’m Pollyanish? Maybe. What’s that, you say? This all sounds great, but I forgot something very important – we stutter. How can we afford to jump right in and do these wonderful things, help others, and be a player when there are so many obstacles thrown our way? Oh, you mean things like prejudice, ignorance and criticism because we stutter? Rejection because we’re not accepted nor considered as normal? Perhaps even teasing, ridicule and condescension? Those things?
We have the privilege of choice -- people will react to us based on how we react to ourselves. Regardless of any individual’s personal plight, whether a physical oddity, social stigma, or behavioral consequence, he can effect either acceptance or rejection from society. Through one’s self-assurance and poise, handicaps become transparent and insignificant. The individual becomes empowered in others’ eyes. Because he or she promotes who they are and what lies within them regardless of their hurdles, that’s what the world sees.
But, beware, the plot can change. Through awkward uncertainty and cowering self-doubt, those same imperfections become magnified into a target. No different than sharks scenting blood, people smell the fear that shackles the hesitant stutterer’s life. Because he or she promotes themselves as flawed victims of unfairness and misfortune, that’s what the world sees.
Now, let’s figure out how to dive into the world’s mainstream, regardless of that octopus swirling around us, and pursue a full life without limitation. Granted, I don’t have guaranteed answers, but throughout forty-seven years, I’ve been pretty lucky to have found acceptance and belonging in the eyes of thousands of individuals I’ve encountered along my journey – all while talking fast and funny.
EDUCATE, DON’T ADVOCATE
Educate with immediate disclosure, then get off of it and get on…
Undoubtedly, disclosure of stuttering is an effective strategy to ease anxiety, defeat misperceptions, and pave the way for honest communication. But for whom do we disclose? The listener or ourselves? We do it for us – to make ourselves feel better. Then magically, because we feel fine, the listener feels fine.
Incessant advertising and advocacy, on the other hand, defeat the purpose of disclosure. Disclosure prepares the listener to cognitively process that our unique speech is simply stuttering, nothing more complicated or suspicious. But a barrage of self-focused anecdotes and unsolicited dissertations leads the listener exactly to where we don’t want to – seeing only our stuttering. Why? Because apparently that’s all we’re seeing.
Never mistake simple politeness for genuine interest in our stuttering. Observe how we respond to individuals who openly tout their personal torments with societal pressures regarding weight, height, race, shape, gender, age, religion, mentality, disease, etc. The first confident reference is impressive and bolsters their ability to normalize. The tenth reference does not. Truly, “less is more.” Sell you, not your stuttering.
Educate yourself about stuttering in order to intellectually defeat stereotyping.
To be considered normal, act normal. Use facts and truths when educating others about stuttering. Never waste the opportunity to correct a misunderstanding, shatter a false stereotype and dissect a myth. People will see a reasonable person respecting them for their capability to understand responsible information, rather than only an emotional reaction to their genuine ignorance of stuttering. Certainly, heartfelt feelings are essential to healthy lives, but mainstream success rewards equally those able to compete with their minds. What a beautiful chance to show that we can do both.
When asked about stuttering by the truly curious, our ability to react intellectually with rational explanation about what stuttering is and what it is not further desensitizes the mystery of stuttering. However, when we cloak ourselves in that shroud of embarrassment or denial, we’ll be seen as anything but normal. But understand that social normalcy requires perspective – a proper time and place for everything. So educate others, but “get off of it and get on …”
It’s not cancer, not contagious, not a prison sentence…you get the point – it’s only stuttering! Remember, that’s what everybody else thinks. Only we feel the iceberg of interiorized fear and shame, not fluent society. People are consumed with their own daily worries: Mortgage payments, children’s braces, hypertension, unemployment, sickness, aging parents, troubled teens, the cost of living -- (just like you, right?)
We shouldn’t downplay the lifetime turmoil which stuttering has tarnished many of us with to different degrees, but we shouldn’t promote our pain as the only flavor of stuttering for others to taste. To do that continues to perpetuate the myths of emotional confusion, limited capabilities and inability to coexist.
When you disclose stuttering, educate others about the disorder or react to its presence – SMILE, darnit! Exude an air of confidence and optimism. Be proud and unashamed. Look ‘em in the eye and nod. Don’t shy away. Don’t look down. Raise your head. If we’re so determined to prove that stuttering “is no big deal in our lives” as we’ve told so many for so long, then SHOW it’s no big deal! There is no finer advocacy opportunity to promote the normalcy of stuttering than a positive image.
INTEGRATE, DON’T HIBERNATE
To be treated as a peer, be a peer.
Stuttering cannot justify prevention of participating fully in life. Nor can we justify feeling ostracized from the ability of doing so. As you leap into the mainstream, you’ll find acceptance from society, not because you shun stuttering’s claws, but because you embrace life. Whether it be the fun of pop culture, the thrill of sports, the reward of family, the stimulation of politics, the excitement of travel, or the depth in academia, a common bond will evolve among you and your peers, workmates, neighbors, friends and even strangers. Stuttering will have nothing to do with this acceptance. You’ll be seen as “normal” simply because you “showed up, stood up and signed up.”
Ever think about things such as these?
Take an evening class to understand investments
- Chaperone teenagers on a church outing
- Join your favorite performer’s local fan club
- Manage an election booth or help a political campaign
- Play recreational co-ed softball
- Lead workmates to a new restaurant
- Organize a weekend fishing excursion
- Host a barbeque for new neighbors
- Train to complete a marathon for a worthy charity
- Jump on the bus to go play Bingo!
Now which one of those could you not do because you stutter? Aha! None, you say…keep going…
For many of us stutterers, the workplace represents the most difficult, perhaps the cruelest, barrier. Because we stutter, we face possible economic consequences of rejection, suppression or even dismissal of our means to make a living and fulfill our intellectual potential. So, we think…
Acceptance in the workplace is as important as our intellectual contributions to our profession. Let me repeat myself. Success and fulfillment professionally are not limited to our solo contributions or our isolated efforts. There is no difference in finding acceptance in the workplace for stutterers than in the neighborhood, the clubhouse, the classroom, the sanctuary, or on the playing field. Those who find acceptance and succeed at the office share a common bond -- integration. They “show up.” They participate. They contribute. They conform. They care.
When listing successful individuals within our professional environments, regardless of country, culture or class, characteristics as the following are universally noted: Hardworking, team player, confident, well-prepared, diligent, resourceful, dedicated, loyal, decent, ethical, fair, polished, presentable, capable, likeable, kind, industrious, …
Okay, now which one of these is not possible for us in the workplace because we stutter? Still not sure, huh? Keep going … Would you agree that successful employees are those individuals who volunteer when needed, speak up when asked, lead the way when required, and instill loyalty without complaint? Would you agree these same successful people seek personal growth, improvement, and continual knowledge and education to better perform their job? And would you agree that they are well respected, liked and admired because of how they treat others?
Now, which of these traits are just too impossible to accomplish because you stutter? You’re not answering…
Now, how about you? Look into your heart and determine your true joys and dreams. We speak of acceptance in the mainstream, but more importantly of self-acceptance. Are there travels you’ve longed to pursue? Skills you’re attracted to master? Relationships you’ve desired to formulate? Challenging responsibilities to tackle? Is there an activity you feel destined to excel within? Perhaps a place to live? Maybe an occupation to test?
Society offers a framework for any conventional pursuit or endeavor. An infrastructure of assistance and guidance can be found to facilitate any goal. People of experience and support can be found to pave the way for literally anything we want to consider in our modern world. The only requisite we require is to seek them out. To find fulfillment within our lives and pursue our private dreams, we need others. There is no shortcut.
Master integration within society and you’ll master the ability to integrate within yourself.
MOTIVATE, DON’T DENIGRATE
No, we’re not finished. There’s one more important aspect of finding acceptance within the mainstream. Remember what I said earlier was the most important ingredient – people? Well, now it’s time for a more important part – how you treat those people.
If all else fails, remember one word – encouragement.
We count in our lives a few, if sometimes only one person, who made a difference in our journey, never to be forgotten. These are “encouragers” -- people who motivate us to accept only our best. These angels of optimism along our life’s path never criticize or condemn us, yet their presence discourages anything less than pursuing our full potential, simply by nurturing our strengths and beckoning us forward. As a model for all to emulate, particularly for the stuttering support community, encouragers hold the bar high, beyond reach of the tempting ease of mediocrity. What incredible respect for another’s dignity!
What’s their secret? They put our interests first. Always with a smile, they look at us and listen, often speaking the most precious word we know – our name. In their face, we see our own value.
Want acceptance in the mainstream? To all you encounter, all you befriend, and all you behold, be an encourager…who just happens to stutter.
“Psst! You, the stutterer, I’m finished. Now tell me, what part of stuttering prevents you from choices, behaviors and attitudes to pave the way to finding acceptance, success and fulfillment in the mainstream and within your own eyes?”“Aha, I think you finally get it.” “But don’t forget -- NOBODY WANTS TO HEAR ABOUT YOUR STUTTERING…because they want to hear about you – your joys, your dreams, your life…”