Saturday, October 25, 2008

Special lessons from a positively radiant NSA member

Good evening everyone,

Welcome to another posting on my blog. Although the weather today was absolutely horrendous as the wind and rain were howling, today turned out to be pretty sunny from my point of view. You may be asking why I feel this way...well, today I went into New York City to meet up with one of my NSA colleagues. Last year, I met Kathy Filer, who resides in South Jersey. She made the trip on New Jersey Transit up I-95 to attend an empowerment workshop on the Lower East Side, and while it is always great to meet up with another person who stutters, the most important time spent with her was talking about life experiences and learning a very important theme: We have to say what we need to say, no matter how trivial we might think it is.

C.S. Lewis, who was the author behind the novel "The Lion, Witch, and Wardrobe" (and I believe the Narnia series as well), had a quote attributed to him which goes "Experience is often the most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God, do you learn." Hindsight is often 20/20, and there's always bound to be one circumstance where we wish we could turn back the clock and reverse something we did. But we can't, so we must learn from those experiences and apply them. When I was in high school and college, I had some teachers and professors who simply wouldn't let me participate in discussions, even though if I had something to contribute. I would raise my hand and either I would be ignored, or a teacher would say "Steven, I just don't have time to hear you." In retrospect, I would have wanted to insist that I be heard. But at that time, I struggled with my confidence (more on this later) and would not have been able to say what I wanted to. But as I attended these NSA conferences, I learned how to speak and be heard. I saw I was worth it and people were wanting to hear me speak. But importantly, I was going to make them hear me. Even if it was smiling to say "hello" or to tell a story. And when you discover that you can take back the power from stuttering, it's such an adrenaline rush. And you want more of it, and the faster the better.

When I was talking to Kathy over lunch (and I know this is a shameless plug, but next time you're in NYC and want good Italian, please check out Tony Di Napoli's at East 83rd Street & 2nd Avenue. Try the ziti bolognese), we were talking about our experiences. I told her that at one time I was a painfully shy person whose stutter was so severe that I had adopted the credo "Don't speak unless you're spoken to." Those of you who know me at the conference might be surprised and wonder "Is this the same Steven Kaufman?" Well, no it wasn't. Before I attended the conference in Long Beach, Calif., I felt so alone and alienated from humankind. I felt like I had been judged and had to accept my sentence, which was to be lonely and not to speak to anyone, as tempted as I might have been. It seems so long ago, but I don't even think about those days because they're history and so is the person who felt that way. Now I am one who can say accept he will have good days and bad days with his speech, and be OK with it. Someone who can walk into a diner and not have to worry about fear at all.

Kathy gave me one point which I believe is so important in so many ways. As a person who stutters, you need to say what you need to say. Tomorrow isn't promised to anyone. And whatever happens, you don't have to look back-all you need to do is to look forward and know the sun will rise tomorrow. At one time, Kathy acknowledged to me she was in the running a few years ago (final two candidates) for the executive director position of the NSA, which eventually went to Elaine Saitta, someone who I am also proud to call a colleague. Talking to Kathy, she exudes confidence and a radiant outlook on life that rubs fact, it wouldn't surprise me if it rubbed off on our server too hahaha.

Having a radiant view on life will make not only your life brighter, but other ones as well. In my "A is for Attitude" seminar, which I will plan on giving in Arizona 2009, I spoke about negativity. No one likes a person who is constantly negative, because they bring down everyone else. People are attracted to those who smile, who approach others. When I was walking to meet Kathy at her destination, I noticed so many passersby who were talking on their cell phone, so engrossed in their conversation, or they were focused on the new latte they got from Starbucks. I had a smile and I said "hello" to everyone I passed, and no one even responded to me. I could have gotten annoyed about it, but I like being outgoing and congenial. It will come back to you and more. If you know someone who chronically complains and is negative, smile at them. Make an effort to talk to them. Ask them how their life is....and watch the results. You can turn them from a negative person into one who's alive and kicking.

As I was walking back to Penn Station at 34th & 7th to take the Long Island Railroad back home, I was thinking about how it took me so long to find the NSA. I've met so many members who say they wish they found it sooner. But you know what.....the only thing that matters is we've found it. And for those out there who still experience the pain, isolation, and loneliness of being a person who stutters might condemn them to...I say to them please join the NSA and realize why it's the greatest fan club on earth. It's place where we support each other's work, we laugh, we cry....we dance the night away on the last night at the conference, but WE BELONG.

My name is Steven Kaufman, and I am a person who stutters.

Until next time, stand up and be counted....and make your voice heard. Because the world wants to hear you...and they need to.

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