Fostering a culture of pride (Grant Meredith)

grantAbout the author: Grant Meredith lectures in Information Technology for the School of Engineering & Information Technology at Federation University Australia and is the Associate Dean of Student Retention and Success for the Faculty of Science and Technology. Grant leads the Technologies for Empowering People for Participation in Society (TEPPS) programme which aims to enable the lives of people the world over through the radical design of software and hardware solutions. Grant is an active researcher and presenter within the fields of educational equity, assertive technologies and emerging technologies. Grant is actively engaged within the stuttering world and also sits as a community representative on Speech Pathology Australia’s Ethics Board.

A popular saying exists with many variations which states that “Pride goes before a fall”. But perhaps in the case of the global stuttering community it could be seen that a fall has occurred even before general pride has been felt? From my point of view, pride of being a person who stutters has only ever been positively discussed or promoted within small circles of people who stutter, let alone promoted outside to the general non-stuttering public. The pure idea that you can be proud of the person that you have become and incorporate your stuttering into your identity in a positive manner is such a debatable topic and often the ember which flares very heated communication exchanges amongst people who stutter.

So what is the “fall” you may ask? I propose that the fall is the lack of general unity within global stuttering community and the resulting lack of pride within itself and members about being people who stutter. Now, I am not stating that there is a global stuttering community at all, because I think there are communities of people who stutter bonded by a stuttering organisation or social media group of some form. In a sense a loose community of communities. This coming together of people who stutter usually occurs from a point of support and is often localised to a country, at times perhaps a Facebook group or even due to membership of a evidence-based or not speech management system. The large numbers of people who stutter who join social media platforms and seem unaware of organisations like the International Stuttering Association, Speech Easy Association and other global stuttering bodies seem quite large. In growing numbers, people who stutter are joining social media-based support groups to seek support from other people who stutter, and in turn are often surprised by the amount of help at hand. Often from my own observations these new members frequently comment that they have never spoken to another person who stutters in their life and seem in awe of simply being able to join a community of like people. Sometimes though these new members are faced with walls of heavy opinions about stuttering being only a negative trait, which always needs to be controlled and eventually eliminated. I have witnessed new members in some of these groups state that they were proud to be a person who stutters and then more often than not they are faced with a barrage of counter responses. But I have also witnessed this like reaction at times to many posts which elude to “acceptance” of one’s self as being a person who stutters. Bu imagine yourself as a new member finally finding a community that you can identify with and then being confronted with a walls of negativity focused around issues that you yourself are coming to terms with perhaps in a more positive manner than some other more established members.

So let’s begin this journey with a look at what is meant by “pride”. While the global disability pride movement is growing stronger every year with many more disabled people and support networks accepting and getting behind the word “disability”. The term “disability” is slowly turning from a shameful and dirty word into a word that is being spun and seen as a positive attribute for many. Advertising campaigns are continually being rolled out loudly and positively promoting disability around the world and not promoting a disabled person as a victim of their impairment. Disability pride is fast gathering positive momentum and in turn is attracting positive media attention. Governments and people can clearly see how supported and understood individuals with needs can become contribute highly to society and with a sense of pride about who they are. Overtly there seems to be little in terms of a global push for stuttering unity or pride amongst the splintered and divided stuttering “community”. Yet stuttering is a disability and why cannot we accept that some people who stutter may have a sense of pride within themselves for various reasons intimately linked to and at times influenced by their stuttering? Why can the disability movement promote itself globally with pride while being so accepted and positively promoted through media? Yet stuttering communities are often refraining from wanting to install such pride within their memberships and media portrayals. Yet in turn we all complain about negative media-driven portrayals of people who stutter and the general community misunderstanding about stuttering.

Pride

Pride is difficult to clearly and cleanly define and I do not want to get deeply philosophical about it. I view pride in the context of having self-praise for who you are and for the choices that at times you may have made for your life. These fulfilled feelings revolve around self-characteristics and personally steered decisions including key achievements. Often these positive feelings are as a result of praise from others and/or positive self-reflection resulting in a deep feeling of personal ownership for the praised. Then how does “pride” apply to stuttering and why is it such a divisive term? It is such a debateable term because “pride” is closely aligned to “acceptance” which itself is an often combative term to throw around within stuttering circles. A point of research for you the reader is to look at the strong deaf pride movement which exists worldwide. I do not support the rigidness and divisiveness that the deaf pride stance has caused within general deaf culture and do not suggest such a push within the stuttering community. However, I do support the general pride which sits within deaf culture in terms of being proud to be a person who is deaf, as I do the glowing pride associated with the disability movement in general. Put one question into the back of your mind as you continue to read this paper “Does a “stuttering culture” even exist?”

Pride in terms of stuttering can take many forms and is often misunderstood and misinterpreted often having a direct alignment with the growing global stuttering acceptance movement. Pride can be for someone as simply identifying as being a person who stutters. But that does not mean that the person who stutters cannot strive to better their fluency if they choose to via therapy or other forms of fluency techniques. Having a sense of pride revolving around that fact that you stutter does not stop you from working on their speech. Pride does not stop anyone from wanting to better their situation in life in a form which suits their life goals. Then why not be proud for having a stutter? It was not your choice to have one, and to be honest it is time for people who stutter to stop framing stuttering as such a solid negative within their own stuttering communities. It can be daunting enough for some people who stutter to seek support without walking themselves into a larger wall of negativity associated with the way they speak. Stuttering is not a weakness and nothing to be ashamed of. Personally I view it as a characteristic of who I am. In fact I dare anyone reading this to walk into a disability pride movement meeting and tell those there to stop being so proud of who they are and what they have achieved. I doubt they would be welcome for very long for adopting such a closed minded and arrogant attitude towards difference. You should be so proud of who you are and what you have achieved despite of having a stutter. In fact for many readers I think if you reflected long enough on your life journey so far then you would be very proud of who you have become and achieved. Stuttering is possibly perceived as a greater weakness within our own stuttering ranks than it is in the wider world. The fact is that in a stuttering community we all are people who stutter regardless of our life directions. We all have our own unique life journeys, achievements and goals, all of which have in some way been influenced by our stuttering. Yes influenced, but not caused by our stuttering. So in fact your stuttering has supported you, the person that you are today and will become into the future. But stuttering has only influenced these decisions and has not owned them. So again, take a step back from your life for a few minutes and reflect back upon the person you are today and be proud of the fact that you a person who stutters. That is not to say that your stuttering has to be the pure focus of your pride in your life and in fact it should not be.

Your pride may come from the fact that you achieved something important to you and you just happen to be a person who stutters. For example you have become a surgeon and you take pride in the fact that you achieved high results in university and became your dream when in fact many of your classmates dropped out of medicine without graduating. But you achieved all this and now prosper despite your stuttering and you should be proud of this. As discussed, pride is born from a deep satisfaction within. So even if you stutter when ordering your favourite pizza topping you should still take pride in the fact that you did order the topping and you got the flavour that you wanted, instead of ordering the flavour that was easiest to say. You can then still continue to work on your speech and be proud of the fact that you are constantly trying to self-improve. But your speech should not be your single aim of self-improvement. Yet we know that pride at times can be strongly tied to stuttering acceptance. Some people who stutter become comfortable with their speech during their lives and simply do not want to work on their fluency. They become proud and accepting of who they are and have become. Yet as a community we seemed divided over this idea that a person who stutters may choose not to want normal levels of fluency or controlled speech. So amongst ourselves we fight and debate over this personal choice that no one is generally trying to persuade others to follow. Yet so many people who stutter seem offended and at times disgusted that another person who stutters may be so comfortable in themselves that they choose not to clinically manage their speech, when in fact they are managing their communication and life in their own unique ways. It seems ludicrous that amongst our community stuttering is often portrayed as being almost an illegal act and a blight to be eliminated. If you choose to live with your stutter and speak out positively about doing so then you can be sent to the fringes of the wider stuttering community and at times not that accepted within what you would expect to be a very accepting network of support networks.

This lack of unity within stuttering communities leads to problems of recognition globally for society to take stuttering seriously. Since the hype of the King’s Speech has died down stuttering has had little limelight or focus in terms of media. In fact even when this film was being promoted it seemed to be up to the media itself to generally seek stories and promote stuttering, as opposed to stuttering organisations and individuals loudly using this unique opportunity to promote themselves and the cause at hand. Often resulting stories revolved around framing stuttering as a blanket negative and a condition that cripples all that it afflicts. This is a stance that I understand well and it does help to find funding dollars and raise awareness a little. But as discussed earlier stuttering is a disability and does disable at times all that have the condition whether they like to admit it or not. If stuttering has in any form stopped you from making a life choice or even a daily choice from simply ordering the coffee you want through to choosing not to apply for a promotion means that the involuntary disruptions to your speech pattern and associated feelings are disabling you from time to time.

But the point of this paper is not to argue again that stuttering is a disability, because clearly when applying most legally definitions worldwide it is defined as such. Part of the solution to help elicit stuttering pride is to promote people who stutter and who are successful in many ways to the media. This will install more pride within the stuttering communities themselves and help encourage more associated unity. Promoting “successful” people who stutter will also help to alleviate the general negative views of stuttering amongst the wider general public. Such “success” stories should show people, including other people who stutter, how so called adversity can be overcome despite having a disability. It will also help stuttering organisations to find funding dollars and more media support. It becomes easier to attract funding for stuttering programs when you can show the success stories of those who the community, government and other funding bodies have supported throughout their lives have benefited. These success stories would show the greater world how funding dollars and support has enriched the lives of the people profiled, improved overall quality of lives and value added to the benefit of society. These success stories do not have to be people always stuttering out of control, but they need to show all ranges of stuttering. From those who use speech management techniques through to those who do not. These stories have to show the realities across our communities and our communities need to support this wide range of views and project pride in doing so. This will assist with debunking general social stuttering myths around our general personalities, aspirations and the impact of stuttering upon our lives (often understated). If we cannot accept in ourselves that one can take pride in the fact that one stutters then the general public will continue to frame stuttering as a negative. We need to show pride to the wider community so that those feelings are reflected back to us in a positive fashion. It is counter-productive to always portray stuttering to the world in a fashion that portrays it so negatively in terms of always having to be managed or eradicated. These unrepresentative feelings of the stuttering community as whole will then be negatively reflected back to us in media and society. Yet as a greater community of people who stutter we would then complain about these portrayals of people who stutter in all forms of media. So even if you choose to undergo treatment for your speech you can still take pride in the fact that you are a person who stutters who is achieving goals to manage it more. But underneath the therapy is the fact that you are still a person who stutters. So why not be open about this and embrace this fact, in terms of “acceptance”.

Again let me reiterate, being proud of being a person who stutters does not mean that you cannot work on managing your speech in which any form you choose. In a form that is assisting you to reach your life aims and goals. In turn our stuttering communities need to embrace all the differing views of its members. We need to respect each other’s pride, then respect is shared and a pathway to unity begins. You may not agree with another person’s aims and pride, but you can try to accept them and embrace them. But unity is so difficult to achieve within these splintered communities of people bonded by one characteristic and that is stuttering.  So I will leave you with the Stutterer’s/Stammerer’s Creed that I published last year and is used in parts within some circles.

 

The Stutterer’s/Stammerer’s Creed

This is my stutter. There are many stutters like it, but this stutter is mine.

My stutter does not define me, but it is a part of who I am.

I must master my stutter, as I must master my life.

I will not let it control me or my destiny. Nor will I use it as an excuse not to succeed.

I will feel no shame by stuttering, nor anger at myself doing so.

Other people who stutter may have different opinions about stuttering.

I may not believe in these views, but I will appreciate their opinions.

I will not stand in the way of their personal journeys. But I will not promote those which I disagree with, find fraudulent or untrue.

Without me my stutter is useless. I am its master and together we shall thrive.

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Comments

Fostering a culture of pride (Grant Meredith) — 22 Comments

  1. Hi Grant – great paper. You have certainly given us a lot to think about. I agree that the world stuttering community seems to be missing the boat by not embracing pride and really making it a bedrock of our community. And your point that one can still own pride while actively trying to improve their speech can’t be said enough. I have stopped commenting on a lot of Facebook groups for the very reasons you site – negativity abounds and the community does not really embrace newcomers as I think we should. You’ve done so much in the stuttering community – what’s on your bucket list yet? -Pam

    • Hey Pam, great to hear from you. Thank you for the kind feedback. The bucket list question is a hard one! I think just being able to connect with PWS worldwide and just plant seeds of different thoughts. Then sitting back over time and hopefully watching some of the grow. Although I would really like to work on a team and design a game which has a lead character who stutters. But their stuttering is never a focus point in the game. A nice positive and fun little game with a lead character who just happens to stutter.

  2. Grant, I enjoyed your paper and your message of inclusiveness and acceptance of all who stutter. Your definition of pride is a good one, and I got to thinking how many who stutter have faced such stigma. Stigma is perhaps the polar opposite of pride, which may be one reason why pride is difficult for some to embrace. I have been a co-chapter leader of a chapter of the National Stuttering Association, and am happy to say that our group is welcoming and accepting of anyone who comes to join us. We have much to learn from people who stutter. Thank you for this post.
    Respectfully, Jean Sawyer

    • Thank you Jean. It is up to us to start redefining stigma. Yes I have always loved the NSA’s acceptance of all ye who stutter.

  3. Grant,

    Thank you for sharing your Stutterer’s Creed. I think it is a wonderful way to connect PWS together and recognize that each person has a unique path and this in a way unites us. I especially enjoyed how your paper and creed promote inclusion and open-mindedness. I am a student currently in a Speech-Language-Pathology program and I hope to share this with my future clients.

    Best Wishes,
    Megan

    • Megan I am glad that you liked the article and Creed. Please share as much as you wish and keep promoting open-mindedness to all

  4. Hi Grant, great paper. I loved how you stressed the importance of promoting pride in oneself and the stuttering community as a whole. I am a student at Idaho State University’s SLP Master’s Program. Our professor stresses the importance of treating the person first and stuttering second. We have learned that promoting self advocacy and acceptance is more important than demanding overt fluency. Overt fluency may come and go, but pride and self advocacy is something that can be used throughout a lifetime. Also I appreciate your thoughts on increasing awareness and exposure of stuttering in a positive light in the media. I think that is an important message to send to people who stutter of all ages. The message I got from your paper: Your stutter is only one small part of you, don’t let it write your story.

    Thanks,
    Stephanie

    • Nice to hear from you Stephanie and I am glad that you understood the key messages from my paper. I cannot wait to see your name soon as a leading speech therapist

  5. Hey Grant, I really enjoyed reading your paper regarding an individual’s pride and how it can be an asset to their respective organization. I completely agree that often times people who have a disability (or in this case stutter) feel that if they show any pride at all others may get the wrong message that they are content with the way they speak, talk, act, etc. As you referenced, accepting a disability and then continually working on managing it can be seen as great pride in my opinion. Have you found that people who are more accepting and display a pride level that is very admirable, that their external support system (i.e. family) is strong? Thanks in advance for your reply! Geoff

    • Great to hear from you Geoff. I do see sometimes indeed that people advocating pride often have strong social support systems at least. Often nurturing the pride and acceptance. But I think that is true for most successful and proud people. With pride of your stuttering comes even greater wider awareness and social pride. Suddenly attitudes begin to change around stuttering as stereotypes start to become redefined.

  6. Hi Grant, thanks so much for your thoughtful comments and voicing some of the things I have personally struggled to articulate.

    When reading your paper I still found it hard to read the word disability and struggle to see myself as someone who has a disability, despite the fact that I clearly do. Demonstrating to me the difficulties I still have around acceptance and feeling pride in my achievements, my stutter and myself.

    To me stuttering has always been something I needed to fix or get rid of because it would always stop me from achieving my goals. I have recently noticed I still feel this way even though if I look back on my 45 years I have actually achieved some amazing things, have great friends and family and contribute to the broader community. Further some of the things I have achieved has been positively influenced by the fact that I stutter.

    I have recently decided to engage in speech therapy again (after a 15 year gap) because I found my speech was having a negative impact on my life. The paradox I am discovering is that my lack of acceptance and pride is actually hindered my ability to engage in the therapy process and meet my needs! Your comments further helped me see how important these themes are and showed me that for me acceptance and pride are still very much a work in progress!

    I agree with you that people need to take a personal approach and decide if they need therapy or not and what type. When I started looking around again at what treatments were currently available to help people who stutter I became frustrated. I noticed that many of the things that caused me to detach from the stuttering community 15 years ago are still quite prevalent. The obvious self-interest (personal, financial or academic) of many stuttering programs is still present. It’s amazing that all stuttering programs seem to promote an 80% success rate, (what ever that means) so why are so many people who stutter still struggling on a daily basis?

    Having one clear coherent voice as you suggested may also help treatment providers to start working together for the benefit of people who stutter. I work on the therapy space (as a psychologist) so believe my capacity to assess different treatment programs and what they offer to be quite high, and I still found it hard a confusing. I can not imagine what that is like for parents or a lay person approaching the issue for the first time.

    Maybe one clear coherent voice will allow an honest and clear look at what people who stutter need and the different approaches that may or may not be helpful.

    Thanks
    Dean Smith
    Melbourne Australia

    • Great to read your comments Dean and support. Drop me a line one day and we should meet up. I live and work in Ballarat, but I travel to Melbourne often

      • Hi Grant, loved to catch up when you are in Melb just sent you an email via your contact page at the university.
        Dean

  7. Hi Dean,(and Grant)
    Your comments, as does Grant’s paper, raise some interesting questions. As President of the Australian Speak Easy Association and Chair of the IFA’s Self Help and Advocacy Committee I would like to invite you and Grant to come to Adelaide next week for the annual ASEA Conference. It is only through discussion that solutions can be found for the issues you both raise. Meanwhile I agree very much that one clear coherent voice is needed. As a psychologist you would be well aware of safety behaviours and their impact on preventing anxiety reduction. Perhaps a clearer understanding of safety behaviours would help us all to find that coherent voice. Best wishes, Mark Irwin

    • Hi Mark, I sent in my membership paper work this week to re-join speak easy and would very much like to take a more active role in the future. At present my focus is very much on my own struggles. Geoff Johnson gave me a call earlier in the year to see if I would be interested in coming to the conference and talking about anxiety (as this is one of my areas of interest clinically), I told him I would give it some thought however decided against coming for many different reasons. Looking forward to meeting you in person one day and talking further about the many complex issues we face in the stuttering community.
      Dean

    • Great to hear from you Mark. I would love to come to the ASEA conference but I am just too tied up with work commitments at the moment. I agree that discussion is required on many fronts. We should organise a big think-tank one day

  8. I found your statement in which you said “‘pride’ is closely aligned to ‘acceptance’, which itself is an often combative term to throw around within stuttering circles”, to be right on the money and poignantly so. As an SLP graduate student in a school setting and as a person who does not stutter I want to be able to work on this pride and finding ways to include these CWS as members of the stuttering community early on, instead of leaving these deeper and more affecting aspects for a later date. I know that many of the children I work with are unable to independently seek this kind of outside support and reach this community so, I want to know how can I begin to instill this pride in children early on. Or maybe how I could be able to direct and encourage parents of CWS in this direction towards social pride and inclusiveness. Thank you!

    • Thank you for the kind feedback Kelsey and I hope it helps you in your future career and studies,

  9. Hello,
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts, I really appreciate your perspective on stuttering pride. I am a second year graduate student, and I am currently completing my clinical practicum in an elementary school. I have a few fluency clients this semester, and your paper reminds me of one specific 5th grade boy I have been seeing. What are your views on how to approach stuttering pride when it comes to parents and teachers wanting a child to get speech therapy, but the child does not want it? This child has a moderate to severe stutter that greatly impacts him emotionally and socially, yet, he says he does not need speech therapy almost every time he comes to a session. I would greatly appreciate any thoughts or views you might have on this subject!

    Thank you,
    Hayley

  10. Hi Mark,
    Thank you for your words! The message of pride is such an important one. Did you personally have a difficult journey getting to a point where you consider yourself proud of your stutter? Once you felt this pride, did you see any change in your stuttering? I am a first year graduate student and am taking a Fluency class. I have been learning about all different kinds of influences that may impact stuttering and was wondering if this shift in view had any impact on your stuttering in general.
    Thank you!
    Kim

  11. Hello Grant,

    In your paper, you make the distinction between stuttering influencing versus causing your achievements when you say the following:

    “We all have our own unique life journeys, achievements and goals, all of which have in some way been influenced by our stuttering. Yes influenced, but not caused by our stuttering. So in fact your stuttering has supported you, the person that you are today and will become into the future. But stuttering has only influenced these decisions and has not owned them.”

    I love this idea and would love to use this with any future PWS that I work with. Can you provide me with some concrete examples of the way that stuttering can influence achievement, but not cause it?

    Thank you for this paper,

    Kathryn

  12. Hi Grant,

    I am a post-bacc student at Chapman University and I am currently enrolled in a Voice and Fluency class. I want to say that I am heartened by your comments regarding the gradual destigmatization of the word disability among PWS. I have learned about different segments of the disability community–mostly those with “invisible” disabilities and wheelchair users–and their experiences. I think like any identity, nobody can impose one on you. Nevertheless, I think PWS can only benefit from the movement toward a positive view of stuttering. Thank you for sharing this paper with us.

    Best,

    Sergio