Monday, March 22, 2010
Go Taboo Yourself
The following passage comes from George H. Shames and Herbert Rubin in the book Stuttering: Then and Now.
"Talking about stuttering is a social taboo. Even in households with disfluent children, overt commentary is the exception rather than the rule. Taboo subjects tend to surround themselves and the members of the problem with a sense of shame and guilt which, together with a sense of victimization and helplessness, can continue through adolescence into adulthood.
For adult stutterers the social ritual proscribes any comment about disfluent speech, with the possible exception of the stutterer himself, in the form of a joke or an excuse. Neither the family nor friends risk the embarrassment of commentary, as if they were confronting the emperor without his clothes, conspirators in denial."
This is a remarkable statement. Let's look at your average stutterer: filled with guilt and shame, helplessness and a self-pitying victimization, making jokes or excuses for their behavior. And the stutterers family and friends? They can only feel embarrassment when faced with such a person.
I'm 55 years old. As a child, my parents rarely talked about my stuttering. Not out of a sense of embarrassment, but because there was rarely anything to talk about. What would you say to a blind child - "How's the lack of sight going?" If I wanted to talk about my speech to my parents, I did so. Otherwise, they treated me like a son, not a stutterer. I knew I stuttered, they knew that I stuttered, and we all dealt with it. There was no taboo, no guilt, and no shame. I was often frustrated, but certainly never thought of myself as a victim, and helplessness never entered my mind. I stuttered - I wasn't paralyzed in a bed.
As to friends - I can't say what was in their minds. but as with my family I rarely discussed my stuttering with them. No denial, no avoidance, no shame or guilt. Just a simple principle - it wasn't there problem, it was mine. To be a friend - or a girlfriend - was to be a person who could deal with it. If a person found it embarrassing to consider, then I assumed that they would not choose me as a friend.
Within the Stuttering Industrial Complex, there is a strong contingent that loves to talk about fear, guilt and shame. And anxiety... don't forget anxiety. I've certainly lived with the fear of stuttering, but the fear was situational. I didn't spend my childhood living in fear, and my adult life has been remarkably ordinary. Guilt? Why in the world would I feel guilty? Stuttering is a pain in the ass - not a sin or a crime. As to shame, there's been some of that over the years, but again it was always situational. At my worst - those memories that stay with me to this day - the feelings of shame experienced when stuttering were generally gone the next day. As with a broken leg, you remember that it happened, but you don't remember the pain.
It is my impression that the people who want to peddle guilt and shame to stutterers belong to the school that holds psychology at the heart of stuttering. And they need fear, guilt and shame to motivate the condition. Are there stutterers who see themselves as victims? Pathetic, self-hating creatures surrounded by pitying observers? I'm sure they're out there. I'm also sure that many stutterers are well-balanced people with no need to wallow in the misery expected of them by stuttering "experts."