Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Hi, I'm a person that cares!

Hello everyone,

These days it seems like getting a compliment is a foreign concept. For so many people saying "I appreciate you" or "You are a great asset to this organization" is an experience they will never receive. I have been on the opposite ends of this spectrum at various times in my life. I have won awards from the National Stuttering Association, I've had articles published in academia and other forms of media. I have also been seen as a nobody...but hey, who hasn't been? But recently, I was discussing some interviewing tips with a friend, and he gave me a very interesting response to the question "What is your greatest weakness?" Well, the logical response in this situation is to turn it into a strength. I responded by saying "I care too much. And I am glad I do, because that allows me to make a difference in this world."

If I were to ask this question of ten different people on the street, it's only logical I'd get ten different responses. There are those who believe that "caring too much" will get you taken advantage of. I don't see it that way. Especially in the times we live in, the ability to care about something (or someone) and show empathy is something never to take for granted. Sure, I often say I am a very passionate supporter of the NSA and stuttering awareness. And yes, perhaps I can be a little obsessive from time to time. Still, being obsessive and focusing on details is a key element to trying to sustain any level of success.

If you have followed the business sections of the local papers (or nationally), you may have heard of a very successful man named Ted Leonsis. He happens to own the Washington Capitals hockey team as well as being the majority owner of the Washington Wizards. In a recent article in "The Hockey News," he was asked why he wanted to own a hockey team. I've noticed that as I am turning 33 in April, I seem to discover a lot of things about life that I am finding out there really is no road map for-like how to embrace a challenge. Some people always run away, and yet others go toward them-even when the risks are too high. Leonsis stated that owning the Capitals was an opportunity you could not get anywhere else: In the National Hockey League, there are 30 teams. But only one will win the Stanley Cup. Not everyone has the ability to want to participate in that kind of challenge.

At the end of the article, though, he made a compelling point which was the inspiration to write this latest rendition of my blog. "As an owner, your job is to set the strategy, articulate the vision, provide the resources, and be very, very, passionate and an advocate for your product. If you're obsessive about all the things that are in your control, you are creating a culture that will allow excellence and success to flourish. I can't play, but I can make the players' locker room is really clean and the water in their showers is hot."

I often ask myself what I am in control of. Am I in control of my stuttering? Yes. I can control the ability to go to speech therapy and commit myself to practicing the techniques I have learned. Am I control of the economy? No, but that doesn't mean I can't take advantage of every chance I have to refine my interviewing abilities. I am in control of what I want out of life. We all make resolutions, and by the first hour, 99.9 percent of them are already broken. Well, maybe it's time to control that from happening again. I have lots of things I want to control. Some of them will pop up at a random moment. Regardless, I've never been so happy to say I care too much. I will always be like that. There is a knight, who is often inexperienced, but pure of heart. The thirties really is the start of my life. And no matter what happens, I'll never stop caring about any person-whether they stutter or not.

I would like to wish a very Merry Christmas to those readers of my blog, and a Happy Hanukkah & Kwanzaa. May you celebrate safely and with the ones you love.

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

Thursday, December 16, 2010

If you really don't have anything nice to say......

Hello everyone,

As I was picking up my car today from the mechanic, I had to stop for a few moment and reflect on an interesting topic for this blog. The holidays are upon us, and although we associate them with the usual symbols: the lights, giving of gifts, the mad rush of shoppers at the local mall, sometimes we also neglect to include the need to not say things that eat away at people's very existence of being. I am a strong advocate of being outspoken, especially about things that I am passionate about, such as the National Stuttering Association. But no matter how old you are, sometimes the simple lesson of not saying anything nice if you don't have anything good to say seems to elude the most intelligent of people.

Over breakfast, I was reading the sports section of Newsday, which is our daily publication here and the main source of news for all things Long Island. There was an article about the New York Islanders, which on most days I would have moved past, yet this was different. The Islanders are Long Island's NHL team, and are in serious danger of moving. Despite being a dynasty at one time and being the only U.S.-based team to win four straight championships, the team has continually struggled-failed rebuilds, poor management, an owner who wanted a new arena and complex and was denied it by the local governing board, and on a good night, may be lucky to draw 10,000 fans. Still, they have a loyal following, but these times are mightily testing the fans' patience.

As the story goes, three of the Islanders players (James Wisniewski, Doug Weight, and Andrew MacDonald) were at a local hospital giving out gifts to children who were struggling with chronic illnesses, and trying to offer a temporary if not delightful respite from what they were having to face on a daily basis. One of the nurses, who was not identified in the story, happened to be a season ticket holder and decided to let the players know she felt, as the team had at one time lost 17 out of 18 games. According to Wisniewski, "She was saying nobody wants to go to your games, you've been giving tickets away for free. It was kind of like with that first comment, 'Whoa.' And then the second and third, it's to the point where we had to walk away. I'm a newlywed and I don't want to take my work home with me."

We have all good days and bad days with our speech. Part of the challenge of being a person who stutters is not knowing when or where it may happen. I understand I get frustrated. I accept that 100 percent fluency is asking the impossible. But to have someone criticize me for something I can't control does sting, and I have to do what's right and walk away. There are many people out there who love to put down others because it makes them feel better about who they are. When I attended the job fair for people with disabilities in Washington DC last month, sure, I was the only one who stuttered. It is evident to anyone I meet once I open my mouth, they'll know I stutter. But I also met people who were blind, and deaf, and in wheelchairs. That certainly does not give me the right to ask about their issues. I am approachable and am happy to answer questions about stuttering. However, I respect the fact that some people do not want to talk about what they face. And that's fine too.

Just reading that, I could not help but feel disgusted. And I would bet that now this story has run, her co-workers are going to be also embarrassed too. I always think about the famous line from "The Godfather" which goes, "Never embarrass the family." The National Stuttering Association means everything to me, it is my life. I do not want to do something that would embarrass them or myself.

So if you ever feel angry and frustrated about your stuttering and want to lash out, before you do, take a look around and ask yourself: Can I deal with this in a better way? Of course. NSA chapters are thriving all across the USA, I would strongly encourage you to join one. It could be the greatest move you ever make. And you won't have to lecture any hockey players to do it either.

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, December 7, 2010

The biggest gifts need not be wrapped......

Hello everyone,

The mercury has finally dropped, and now I look forward to this time, although fleeting as it may be. I know the holiday season is in full effect, and everyone is ready to lose their mind, running around like a chicken with their head cut off. The crowds at Black Friday, the nerves getting ready to be frazzled. But I am not a holiday person, for the most part. I actually relish the cold weather because when I was growing up, I felt the cold winds acted as a protector from the negative feelings that would envelop me from my parents and classmates. The snow flurries would be grabbed by me, if only for a few seconds, then to turn to tears, as if to say "I understand what you are going through, and I will cry with you."

Saturday night, Dec. 4, the National Stuttering Association chapters of Manhattan (New York County) and Long Island got together to host a holiday party. I know as the adage says there is always places to go, people to see, and we all run on different schedules. Some of us are struggling with a job search, others facing challenges raising children or having difficulty in relationships. But I always relish the times I can spend with my NSA colleagues. I emphatically believe we will always know each other better than anyone else can even begin to understand. After deciding against having a party at a restaurant, we chose to have a catered meal at a private party room on West 43rd between Eighth and Ninth Avenues, within striking distance of Times Square. Although I live 45 minutes from Pennsylvania Station, to me New York City might as well be a different world. Every time I go there I am awed, and yet I still feel like I don't belong.

I caught the 6:16 train from Hicksville, and it was standing room only into the city. There was a cacaphony of conversations that going on, bombarding me from all sides: "Hey, did the Rangers play tonight?" "No, Megan, I don't have the kids, doesn't Uncle Joey have them?" And of course, there were just those trying to catch a nap or text their friends. But you couldn't help but notice that there were smiles, even if the times we are living in test us all times.

I entered the private apartment building, and took the elevator up to the club level. After walking through the door, I was greeted by the chapter leader of the Manhattan chapter, and I was elated to see one of my chapter members join us. I also had the chance to exchange greetings with some other NSA members, one of which is a social worker and his lovely wife, who runs a fashion blog. And of course, more people filtered in, one of them being a first-time attendee to the National Stuttering Association conference this past July. We all sat down to a delicious dinner from Ben's Deli, a platter full of roast beef, turkey, corned beef, and pastrami, rye bread, pickles, cole slaw, potato salad, pizza, beer, wine. And although it probably went to my butt a few days later, that didn't matter to me at all. Neither did the fact that the beautiful buildings of NYC provided the backdrop.

There's been so many sentiments echoed that the holidays are now all commercialized, and all that matters is how much you sell or buy. But I am also starting to unlearn many things that I learned growing up, and as I am 32, I'm beginning to see the world in many different ways. Those four hours I spent with my new friends and current ones meant more to me than any gift I could possibly get.

Sometimes the best gifts aren't the ones that are wrapped. I know I can be my own worst enemy, and no one sees my flaws like I do. 2010 has been a year shaped by a lot of setbacks, and a lot of exciting things: the mission of the NSA is taking on a bigger meaning, stuttering awareness is becoming a major issue for a lot of people that needs to be shared. But the last few weeks are reminding me that New Year's Day is another chance to raise the bar even higher. I will do something great with my life. I am going to let the world know that no matter what happens, Steven Kaufman is not going anywhere.

Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, and Happy Kwanzaa to all those who celebrate. May you be blessed and remember that you are somebody. I know I am.

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

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Excuse me, Mr. Officer.......

Good evening everyone,

I have to admit that I am becoming really addicted to Facebook. For the longest time, me and technology might as well have been the equivalent of oil and water. Yet these days, social media has not only become a godsend to many of us, but an essential. When I was in high school, to have access to American Online made you stand out in a good way. To have a beeper was considered more of a fashion statement than anything else, but imagine going out today and not having a cell phone or a Bluetooth. Or even an Ipod, for that matter. Yes, I know I still need to get one. For the longest time I drove a 2000 Ford Focus that still had a tape deck, for crying out loud. But there were some good perks-I got some pretty good mileage out of my "Footloose" soundtrack. And hey, I did make a killing at used record stores buying a great deal of cassettes for $4 each.

But more than anything, Facebook has given us a chance to connect with each other. I won't say it is a substitute for a phone call or a handwritten letter, but for members of the National Stuttering Association like myself, it's invaluable for us to share information and keep in touch throughout the year instead of sending 400+ emails in a month. I also look forward to seeing what people are up to. But sometimes you log on to Facebook and there is something that just catches your eye, and forces you to do a double-take. That happened a few days ago involving one of my good friends. This story is about a young woman named "Jasmime." Please note Jasmine is not her real name, it is used to protect her identity. Jasmine hails from West Virginia.

I met Jasmine at an NSA conference in Scottsdale, Ariz., in 2009, and she is a person who stutters. Jasmine is very outgoing and enjoys a good time. She posted a conversation that took place with a police officer, and it really made me think about how the police officer conducted himself. Jasmine was apparently stopped by this officer very late on a Saturday morning. As most people would be, she began get a little apprehensive as the policeman approached. Jasmine started to stutter moderately and the officer assertively asked "Have you been drinking?" As she was getting flustered, and trying to explain that she had not been drinking, but she was stuttering, she turned to show the officer her "Stutter Like A Rock Star" bracelet, which was sold at the Cleveland conference. These pieces of apparel are the brainchild of a fellow NSA member who also has a well-followed blog, and who does a great deal of public speaking and advocates for people with disabilities. As Jasmine kept explaining, the officer had a look of suspicion, questioning whether she was being truthful or just trying to avoid a potentially embarrassing situation. After a long while, the police officer let her go.

There are a couple of interesting angles to look at this situation from a person who stutters. Jasmine had every right to be angry, and most would be in that situation. The officer probably felt he was justified in doing this, because here is a young woman driving alone late at night. To have a sworn representative of the community, someone who is asked to uphold the laws act like this really could raise a few eyebrows. After all, isn't a police officer supposed to be respectful and tolerant of other people's disabilities?Many police departments when new recruits are getting ready to start their jobs, require "sensitivity training" to be aware of potential problems that might come across. Dealing with people of different faiths, or those who have life-threatening medical conditions, can be demanding at the very least. Which brings the question, why isn't stuttering in there? After all, stuttering is a very unique thing for many people. It isn't something that is dealt with on an everyday basis, unless you are one of the many who do.

Now for the record, I need to say that I am not anti-law enforcement in any way. Ever since Sept. 11, 2001, we need to always remember when others ran away, police ran toward. I wear my New York Yankees hat not because I am a fan, but also because the "interlocking NY" represents the police and other agencies who answered the call when the Twin Towers fell that day. It only takes one negative experience to be remembered.In retrospect, the officer may have very well come across rude and insensitive. I believe he did. If anything, those who protect our community should be held to a higher standard in terms of their behavior. As a chapter leader for the National Stuttering Association, I always am visible and I have to hold myself accountable for what I say and do. If I don't, then maybe no one else will. There is nothing I enjoy most in the world, and I don't want to be some elected official who is caught doing something he or she shouldn't have, and then have to be red-faced and apologize.

Regardless of what happens, I am sure Jasmine learned a valuable lesson that I remember every day: There are no off days when it comes to advocating for yourself, and educating others. There is more work to be done. My name is Steven Kaufman and I am a person who stutters. Until next time, stand up and be counted. Make your voice heard.