Friday, April 10, 2009

Do you have a handler?

Good evening everyone,

I would like to first wish everyone a very happy and joyous holiday, whether you are celebrating Passover or Easter. There's something special about this time, because while we may have legally entered the spring season according to the calendar, these two holidays let us know that the summer is soon to come, with the promise of long days and truly dazzling nights.

That being said, I was inspired to write this blog after having the second Seder with my family and my uncle, along with his wife. Along with chatting about life, politics, and sports, the discussion turned to current events, and one of my family members commented "Does anyone really say anything anymore? These days, it's mostly the handlers. What happened to taking accountability and saying what's on your mind?"

It's interesting if you think about it. When I was younger and struggling with my speech, I never really say myself as having a handler. But as I began to work in speech therapy and get involved with the National Stuttering Association, I realized that I, too, had become a handler unbeknowst to me. When I'd go out to dinner on a Saturday night at the local diner, the familiar waiter would come to greet us, and then inevitably, the sense of dread would come over me. I knew what was coming....I was a dead man walking. The words would come out, I'd freeze, and all of a sudden I was the petri dish in the microscope being examined seven different ways to Sunday. And then the waiter would finish my sentences. I suppose at that point in time, it didn't bother me. But in the same process, I had created a handler.

If you're comfortable with having a handler, and some are, you're also comfortable with settling for less than you want. You see, you want to say something, but you don't. You want to tell someone how you're feeling, but you let that other person make that decision for you. Don't give that power to someone else. It only belongs to one person-and that's you. Every time you speak, you're taking more and more power away from the handler.

There are many NSA teammates of mine who are involved in Toastmasters, and have achieved great success with it. Good speakers are never born, they always learn. It isn't so much about speaking to an audience as it is believing what you say. Believe you are important. Believe that you will be listened to, and you will garner the respect. But most importantly, above all else, believe you are not your stuttering.

I will always carry a debt of gratitude to Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., for giving me my first chance to speak. Four years ago, never could I have imagined being a guest lecturer. So far, I've been panelists at Teachers College-Columbia University, Long Island University-Brooklyn, and I have spoken at William Paterson University, and Seton Hall University. So when someone asks me who my handler is, I say "You're talking to him."

In some ways, you can't get me to keep quiet. But doesn't that feel good to know I will never be quiet again? It sure does!

My name is Steven Kaufman and I am a person who stutters. Until next time, stand up and be counted. Make your voice heard.

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