Sunday, June 28, 2009

A story about Michael Jackson and your reputation as a teammate who stutters.....

Good evening everyone,

It seems hard to believe that Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, was taken from us before his time. It's appropriate though since that this is one of the biggest news stories of our lifetime, that I use my blog to focus on what we can learn from his passing as teammates who stutter. Someone recently made an observation that the media seems to be fawning over the positive contributions he made, but no one seems able (or willing) to talk about the trial he had to endure, and his bizarre behaviors, especially where there were young children-which is what many people will unfortunately remember.

When I was growing up and facing the horrors of the social jungle known as high school, upon graduation I never realized just how many scars I had inflicted on myself and others. The greatest asset we have is our reputation, and it does follow you everywhere you go. I did a lot of stupid things I'll never be able to take back, and in some ways, I attribute that to being a person who stutters. When you feel like the outcast, you want to be talked about, even in an unflattering manner because it means people know who you are. I disobeyed teachers, played the role of the extremely crude class clown. Unfortunately for me, I lived (and still do) in a town which is very close-knit where everyone knows each other. I'm just starting to climb out of the self-induced hole I dug for myself. The National Stuttering Association is entirely responsible for allowing me to do that.

I'd like to say that the world is not a judgmental place. Although I wish so many times that's not the case, it can never turn out like that. If you think about it, we all judge: ourselves, each other, the clothes we wear, the items we buy. We make decisions all the time and rarely do we think about the consequences until it's too late. I enjoy a good time as much as the next one does, but I also believe that whether or not you acknowledge it, you are a role model as a teammate who stutters. What you believe and how you conduct yourself will go a long way toward determining what kind of values you'll have. Our annual conference is coming up, and of course I will be there to celebrate all that stuttering is with my teammates. But one thing I never take for granted is my reputation. When a teammate comes up to me who meets me for the first time and says "Oh, I've heard of do such great work for the NSA," that's my reputation at work. I'm just one teammate out of 600+ who stand together and contribute to make the NSA what it is. We all acknowledge each other!

I am never leaving the NSA, and it will always be part of my life. But a few days ago, a person posed to me a philosophical question: "How do you want the NSA to describe you?"-Well, I know exactly how to answer. I'd say "Steven Kaufman is a fighter. He fights to empower and educate others, and never let anyone prevent him from saying what he wanted to."

There will always be disagreements with teammates about philosophies, and the ways of the world. But just to know that we can create our reputations and drive our forces for the good of a common goal is the most amazing feeling in the world. The last few days, I've been listening to "Man in the Mirror" often and I think of the one line that stands out: "If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make a change." Or better yet, take a look at your reputation. Be a role model and show yourself off to the world: I stutter, and I'm free to be!

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

Monday, June 22, 2009

No longer the winter (and summer) of my discontent....

Good evening everyone,

The first official day of summer came and passed quietly, but yet it does not feel like summer here in the Northeast. Still, I do not complain, but rather relish the cool, raw breezes that greet me to the dawn of the day. I wanted to use this edition of the blog to talk about summer and what it means to me as a teammate who stutters. William Shakespeare, whose works I read to this day and still embrace the lessons that have pertinent meaning, once wrote in "Richard III" a famous line that utters the phrase "the winter of our discontent," from Act I, Scene I. For one who stutters, there is no seaon of their discontent. The feelings of shame, isolation, and guilt last all year round, which often attack the psyche and self-worth.

The summer is often associated with long, sunny days, laughing, and a cheerfulness of innocence, that is so precious because we only get three months of the year dedicated to that....but sometimes Indian summer is bestowed on us and it makes it even more special. But growing up as a child, I held on to those times because for the first time it made me feel that I could be seen as just another person in the world. I never had the luxury of going to sleepaway camp, but for four years, I enjoyed being a camper at Camp Kenwal, learning in the Athletic Development specialty area. I wasn't seen as "Steven the Stutterer," I didn't have to endure the "Here comes the stutterer" comments, I was just seen as Steven, one kid who wanted to talk to others and participate. I came into my own those years, but like the swoon of humid August days, those days came and went, and it was soon back to school.

I've blogged on here about the painful and cruel experiences of high school and college. In some ways, I am very grateful for the opportunity, but more importantly the calling, to work with teammates of all ages and show them how their stutter never needs to hold them hostage. But I can say emphatically that the years of my discontent ended with a few days in Long Beach, Calif. And in less than three weeks, it will be time for another conference on the West Coast. A chance to re-ignite my flame and passion for stuttering, which has never gone out at all...because I won't let it.

I've been asked by some teammates to describe the National Stuttering Association conference. There's so many adjectives out there it's quite feasible every one would be exhausted just trying to make attempts. But each conference is unique in its own way. There are some universal themes, though. In some ways, it's part summer camp. It's part bonding. It's a big part education. It's about the journey. Let me reemphasize that, because it's important: It's the JOURNEY. The ultimate goal for any teammate who stutters is self-acceptance, but the journey is what transforms us into who we are. It's the experiences....the laughing, the tears. It's about the closing banquet, conversing and relating, slow dancing and just knowing that all is right with the world, if only for a few days.

Lita Ford once sang "If I close my eyes forever, will it remain the same?" Well in a few short days, it will be. We'll pick up where we left off-and I hope you'll join us. If I can help you on your journey, don't hesitate to contact me. I'm here for all my teammates around the world.

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

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Don't be a stuttering asshole!

Good evening everyone,

A few weeks ago I was perusing the local aisles of the library and while I was focusing on books in the careers and workplace section, I came across a book that just darted out at me. Have you ever had one of those moments? I'm sure you're just casually looking, and all of a sudden, the thunderbolt out of a clear blue sky hits you: "Read me! Take me home!" you visualize the book talking to you. That's exactly what I did. And it was all because of the title.

The title of the book was "The No Asshole Zone." Now there's a great conversation starter if there ever was one. The book talks about how co-workers who are genuine certified assholes can ruin the environment for others-how their negative energy zaps people, what you can do to avoid them (or interact with them if you must), and why they are the way they are. The more I began to read, I realized that before I found the National Stuttering Association, I was...a stuttering asshole in how I treated myself and others.

So what exactly makes a "stuttering asshole?" For starters, it's how you treat yourself. The psyche is such a very powerful, yet sensitive instrument of the human mind. We can alter it from one extreme to another: We can make ourselves self-confident and aware that our life can be lived with vigor, passion, and enthusiasm for stuttering. On the other hand, if you let the pendulum swing the other direction, you become a bearer of your feelings on others-and you impose those feelings of guilt, shame, humiliation...because if you have to endure being a person who stutters, so should the rest of the world so they can experience what it's like.

For so many years, I was so angry and wrapped up in those emotions that I couldn't even look at a world outside myself. I found myself consumed with the need to make others feel so bad that it was all I knew. A "stuttering asshole" is one who isn't in touch with their feelings. They're one who instead of reaching up to inspire others and help them with their journey of self-acceptance, likes to put down others because it makes them feel good.

Someone once put as their personal quote on AOL "Don't pay attention to those in your past, because there is a reason they didn't make it into your future." Well, I can guarantee that if you be a "stuttering asshole," no one will want you in their future. I know where my future lies-I want teammates who will stand up for me, the way I stand up for them. Don't be a stuttering asshole.

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

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The choice to be angry or not is yours....what do you choose?

Good afternoon everyone,

Although I am recovering from the flu right now, I had to post regarding a tragedy that took place this past week at the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC. James von Brunn, who was identified as a white supremacist, killed a security guard who opened the door for him, and if not for the quick thinking of two other officers, more visitors might have been injured. In the days after this horrific event, we learned how vitriolic this person's thoughts really were and how they had built up over time, leading to his violent rampage.

Having faced the challenges of stuttering all my life, I can say emphatically that there have been times where I have gotten angry. I am sure my NSA teammates have all felt this way at some points in their journey of self-acceptance. I matured late in life, and learned many lessons the hard way. I'd lash out at the rest of the world every time I had a block, whenever I was passed over by a teacher in high school I'd bang my hand on the desk and say "But I want to be heard!," which often the end result would be a written reprimand and/or detention. It would get much worse though-when there were parent-teacher conferences, my parents would often come home and I'd have to hear something to the effect of "Steven doesn't know how to control himself."

Anger often clouds our judgment and in an extreme, makes us say and do things to others we normally wouldn't do. But then there are those ultra-extreme situations, where someone can hate someone or something so much that the fabric of reasoning and rational thinking rips apart so easily-in essence, you become so desensitized that you don't care about anything anymore. You don't want to grow, you don't want to change, all you care about is feeding that anger until it consumes you. Then you don't recognize the person you've become...all you care about is making others feel the way you do. It's not fun at all. I know, I've been there. All my NSA teammates have felt the razor-sharp piercings of teasing, bullying, isolation from all they know. I often think back to the song "Iris" by the Goo Goo Dolls, from the movie "Ciy of Angels." There's one line that stands out that goes "I don't want the world to see me, because I don't think that they'd understand. When everything is made to be broken, I just want you to know who I am."

Yet despite the image that being angry carries a negative vibe, the truth is in many situations, if you apply the right type of positive thinking, and give that anger a voice and a purpose to help others, you can develop into a better teammate. Friday I was watching Oprah Winfrey briefly, and she was talking with John Walsh. Walsh, for many years, was the creator and host of "America's Most Wanted" on FOX-TV. He suffered through a tragedy no one should have to bear: his son, Adam, was kidnapped and eventually decapitated. For a long time, he struggled to identify the killer and after confirming his suspicions on who it was, Walsh gave his anger a voice: founding the Adam Walsh Child Resource Center, which merged with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. His work on TV has led to 1,000 criminals being arrested and removed from today's streets.

When I found out that I stuttered, I was angry in many ways. I was angry that I felt "shunned," and unable to enjoy social activities that many of us take for granted. But now more than ever, I have to say I am lucky I stutter. I learned how to take my anger and make it the best positive force in my life. I have the greatest teammates in the world who I love more than life itself. And there's the National Stuttering Association....which always has my heart.

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

Sunday, June 7, 2009

What type of revolution will you start?

Good evening everyone,

As I was surfing the Internet this past week, I found out that one the significant world-turning events celebrated its twenteith anniversary. I'll never forget the photo of one man standing in front of four tanks representing the People's Liberation Army in Tianamen Square, defying the will of what symbolism those tanks represented. In today's world, there have been many moments that have forever altered the landscape of the society we live in: The Berlin Wall coming down. The assassination of President John F. Kennedy. More recently, the horrifying attacks of September 11, 2001.

As I was reading the latest edition of The Hockey News, I couldn't help but pay keen attention to an article called "Defection," which profiled the story of Alexander (The Great) Mogilny, who became the first Russian professional hockey player to defect to the National Hockey League. In this piece, the writer talks about how whether he intended to or not, Mogilny launched a revolution for other players from Russia to come to the United States to play, and facing strict punishment (and being targeted for turning traitor to their country) for doing so. Mogilny did not want to relive this event, but when asked why he did it, he said bluntly and poignantly "I did it for freedom. If the bird can fly and the fish can swim, you have to be able to move around the world and be free and not watched constantly. If a human being doesn't have freedom, that's not life. It's like living in a cage. To me, you might as well be dead."

Think about the last two lines of that statement. For my teammates who stutter, at one time, we were all living in self-imposed cages. Trapped by our vocal spasms. Forced to live in isolation because we had no other choice but to do so. Stuttering can be mild to severe, we all know this. Regardless of what type of diagnosis you might be given when it comes to your speech, a parent hearing the words "Your child stutters" could interpret that as a death sentence. Imagine, going through life and struggling to say what you want. Even if it's ordering a sandwich at the local restaurant. We live that every day. Hell, I just did today, and it was ordering linguini bolognese at the local pizzeria.

But just like with the revolution Mogilny launched, you too can start your own revolution within yourself. Maybe today you'll talk to a teammate about your speech and the challenges you faced today. Maybe you'll walk up to a person on the street, smile and say "Hello!"-and who cares if it comes out "h-h-h-hello." You can fire a thousand salvos that will provide you with amazing self-confidence. It may make you scared. But imagine this: one person sacrificed their citizenship, even never again seeing their wife and daughter. You will reap so many rewards by doing so. You may very well find that your life, as a teammate, begins now.

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