Thursday, April 29, 2010

Reflections on a birthday passed.......

Good evening everyone,

Last week I celebrated my birthday. 32 years ago, I entered this world and it would be pretty safe to say it's been a challenge. Jerry Garcia, the legendary singer of the Grateful Dead, coined the phrase "What a long, strange trip it's been," and that could certainly be applied here. But as I was having my birthday cake, I took some time to make a few quiet reflections.

I think growing up, taking a compliment for me was one of the hardest things to do. When I was given a present as a young man, especially in those turbulent adolescent years, I would feel tremendous guilt opening the gift-wrapped box. I never have had a solid relationship with my parents, and their approach was "We're sorry we never listened to you. Hope this makes up for it." How I wished at that very moment I was someone else's son.

In my late twenties, I decided to take a different approach to birthdays. I enjoy shopping for gifts when it comes to those I really, truly care about. But the more I thought about, I realized that what I wanted money couldn't really buy. At my first real job, I saved every cent I earned and would take great pleasure in frequently checking my bank statements and seeing my account grow. But after a while, I began to realize that it was taking the place of something I didn't have. I didn't have positive influences in my life. I had no one I could share my feelings with about stuttering. And as I celebrated future birthdays, I did so going out by myself. I felt there was plain and simple, no other choice. Sinead O' Connor, who gained notoriety for her performance on "Saturday Night Live," had a title of her album that succinctly described my feelings about presents: "I do not what want I have not got."

Yet birthdays can also teach us some valuable lessons too. I grew up in a middle-class-to-somewhat-affluent community on Long Island, which is heavily Jewish. In seventh grade, one of the popular trends was to collect National Hockey League player jerseys and show them off in the manner that if you had one, it was a badge of honor and a source of pride. I wanted to get a Doug Gilmour Toronto Maple Leafs jersey, a white background with the blue and white trim. When I got it, I was the happiest person for a day or so. But I didn't wear it ever again, and eventually it took up a permanent place of residence on my closet. The most sage piece of advice I ever got was be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it.

Special occasions are meant to be shared with those who really love and care about you. I wish I had a better relationship with my family. Many times when I go to these NSA conferences, I see this become a very powerful bonding experience for everyone, and I know that I won't ever have that. But the more I think about it, maybe I do. When I blow those candles out, I think of the NSA Nation and everyone I have met. Their contributions to my life can never be erased, because the lessons they have taught me stay in my mind every day.

When I blew those candles out this year, I realized that this year will be different. I thought about the song "Somebody To Love," by Queen, which happens to be one of my favorite songs. It also happens to be a staple on many classic radio stations. The song is a composition of themes such as wondering if love exists, and whether God does as well. Well, I can say emphatically that the answers to those questions is yes: My love is the National Stuttering Association. As far as the other question, I firmly believe there was a driving force that compelled me to spend five days in Long Beach, Calif., that rocked my world in so many ways. And I've never been the same since. I absolutely am so eternally grateful that I did.

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, April 18, 2010 not retaliate!

Good evening everyone,

The great thing about inspiration is that you never know where it will come from. You can be out walking around the neighborhood and all of a sudden, you have that blast of hidden brilliance that reveals itself. Or in my case, it happened to come at 6:02 p.m., as I was intently watching the New Jersey Devils pregame show before they were scheduled to take on their bitter archrivals, the Philadelphia Flyers, at the Wachovia Center. Stan Fischler, the renowned NHL columnist and commentator, was chatting with retired defenseman Ken Daneyko, and "Dano" as he is affectionately known by his colleagues, said these words that immediately jumped out at me: "Initiate. Don't retaliate."

I think it's safe to say that as a person who stutters, we've all experienced a burning desire at one time to get even with someone who teased and bullied us. And when you begin to get consumed by that, you slowly realize that it takes over your whole life and you eventually begin to see things in this way: the only thing that matters is making this person feel the hurt you have to go through. It's such a toxic way of thinking and the consequences far outweigh any short-term pleasant feeling you'll have.

It always seems like there's another challenge we have to face: Someone says we can't do something, a person doesn't want to call you for a job because the position requires "good oral communication skills" and right off the bat your resume shows you stutter, and you're eliminated. If you want to create positive change in your life, follow these words: "Initiate. Don't retaliate."

I couldn't help but think about this as I flashed back to something that took place a few days ago. I am looking to get out and date, and at one time I had an account on the website. (It's no longer active). There was an advertisement from a woman who piqued my interest, so I wrote to her, and then three days later, this was the response I received: "You should learn how to play for the other team, because no woman will want to go out with a guy who stutters." I have heard so many things over the course of my life: "Spit it out, I don't have time," "Hey, it's Porky Pig!," but I was truly astounded at the depth of ignorance that remark showed.

Now when faced with that situation, how does one decide what to do? Well, let's weigh both sides of the equation here. If I wanted to retaliate, I could have easily written her back and cursed her out. I could have written her a whole essay about the great things that people who stutter have done currently and throughout our great history. But retaliation to me wasn't an option at all. I have come a long way in my life and I no longer want to be the person who loses it at the drop of a hat. I was that throughout high school and college, and those who took pleasure in teasing knew that I would give them a reaction. I decided to initiate, and take a new course of action. I firmly resolved to dedicate myself even more to speech therapy than I do currently, because I need to stay on top of my speech and that gives me great pride when I can do so.

It really doesn't take much to initiate changes in your life. No matter what the circumstances are, every day is another chance to start over. As an advocate for people who stutter, I never forget that each day can bring something new to make my life more enjoyable- a chance to help others and make them know that when you stutter, it doesn't have to mean a death sentence. Far from means the start of a special journey. Make sure you find out about the National Stuttering Association ( and start today.

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

Friday, April 9, 2010

Good evening everyone! These last few days the world has been buzzing about what may have been one of the greatest basketball games ever played in the college arenas. Even if you don't follow the NCAA Tournament (and I am not someone who is big into the brackets), you couldn't help but notice what was truly a very special game for the championship, which pitted the small school of Butler University from Indiana's Hoosierville against the perennial contenders from Duke University in North Carolina. Although Butler came up two points short, I will guarantee you that they will probably celebrate being number two for a very long time.

Yet for some reason, this country seems to galvanize the fact that only those who earn number one status will also reap the rewards of being remembered. Here's a sampling of what second place means to some: "Second place is the first loser." "No one remembers who came in second." In the book "Tuesdays with Morrie," by Mitch Albom, there's a great line about that: "What's wrong with being number two?"

Being a person who stutters often meant that in my life, I would often be jealous of others because I felt different. In many ways, I would see myself as second in everything. Other students, it seemed, were destined to take the glamorous road: good colleges, a prestigious job after graduation, a good house in the suburbs. Yet unbeknownst to me, I didn't realize it then, but now I am starting to see that being second isn't so bad at all.

We do have to fight for everything we get. Some of us just have to do it more than others. I don't see my stuttering as a disability, yet I see it as the greatest inspiration that shows me I can do great things and not only make my life better, but others as well. When a person who stutters has to go on an interview, they're not just competing against others who want that position. How, you ask? Well, they are competing against themselves too: they want the challenge of seeing that they can do it. And even if we get that dreaded letter of rejection, we know there'll be another day. So we came in second. We did. We tried. That, to me, means more than anything in the world.

As those who read my blog know, I am a big advocate of the National Stuttering Association, which is the greatest love of my life. And when we come together for our annual conference in a few short weeks, we have a special awards ceremony where we recognize the outstanding contributors who have given of themselves. Of course, it's a great thrill to be recognized, but at the same time, being an advocate for me is its own reward. All the members want to win an award, but I am the first person to walk up and congratulate someone if they win. I do not go expecting to win, because all our work speaks for itself.

Some of the best things in life have been number twos: like movie sequels. (Well, a few of them anyway). And if I am number two, I'll gladly take it. Because there's nothing wrong with being number two. Butler isn't, that's for sure.

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