I debated about whether to write about this experience, because I DO NOT want it to sound as if I am criticizing this person in any way. My only desire is for this post to raise greater stuttering awareness. Due to the circumstances, I know in my heart that this person did not understand what stuttering really is. He did not understand that stuttering is a real medical condition that thousands of people face each day. One of the greatest things that stuttering has taught me is to see the best in everyone…to always give them the benefit of the doubt. Perceptions can be so dangerous, if we don’t ever search further into what somebody really meant.
So, here’s what happened. . .
Quite a few months ago, when I was still attending a Christian school, I was sitting in speech class (a class taken by video) waiting for the next performance. If I remember correctly, this particular assignment had been to pick out a monologue and perform it in front of the class. Even though we followed a certain story line, we had free reign to create our own characters. As the next student walked to the front of the class and began speaking, something immediately caught my attention. There was something very different-and way too familiar-about the way his character spoke. Then, it hit me. . .really hard. He was pretending to stutter.
Unfortunately, this character wasn’t just someone who stuttered. He was also portrayed as very awkward and unintelligent. Sadly, many people seem to associate stuttering with these things. As I listened to his broken speech, I felt like sinking down into my chair and disappearing. The whole class on the video was laughing. I tried to smile and ignore the way this made me feel, but I just couldn’t. I tried to just focus on the performance, but the stuttering was all that I could hear at that moment. It’s not that I was bothered by the stuttering itself. I wasn’t angry at all. I was just sad that stuttering was being used as a joke.
I could sense the people next to me, who knew that I stutter, glancing nervously at me. I tried to mask the shock and sadness on my face, but I don’t think I did a very good job. Finally, after what seemed like hours, the performance ended. The teacher on the video walked to the front of the class and congratulated him on his excellent performance. What’s so difficult about this situation is that it really WAS a great performance over all. He did an amazing job staying in character and making the character believable. But then, the teacher’s last couple of comments stung deeply. “Great job on making your character stutter! I think that added a great aspect of humor to the performance.” My heart sank.
At that moment, I realized that I had to do something. I told myself over and over, “You can’t be upset at them. You just can’t. But you know what you can do? Raise awareness.” I think we’ve all probably seen the media portray stuttering in a humorous way. Especially for me as a stutterer, it is so difficult to not be deeply hurt by every stigma I hear about stuttering. But I have had to realize that most people do not have a full understanding of stuttering. It’s okay that they don’t understand. I can’t expect them to understand something that they have never experienced or never heard about. However, I can do my very best to keep raising awareness so that they do understand. That has become one of my life goals!
Will you join me in raising awareness for stuttering? Whenever we hear something negative about stuttering, we can take that opportunity to kindly and lovingly tell others more about stuttering so that they understand. Small things like that can make such a huge difference towards raising awareness.
Thank you so much for taking this amazing journey with me.
Much love, Makenzie