Stuttering is an opportunity (Benny Ravid)

About the author: Benny Ravid is one of the founders of the Israel Stuttering Association (AMBI), established in 1999. He served as Chair of AMBI from 1999 to 2015.

Along with his activities in AMBI, Benny was also a member of the Board of Directors of the International Stuttering Association (ISA) from 2001. In 2007 he was elected to serve as Chair of the ISA and served until 2010.

Today Benny Ravid is the honorary president of AMBI and is still much involved in AMBI activities.

Abstract

This article is a written version[1] of a speech given on Aug 25, 2016 in Katowice, Poland.

It shows that stuttering not only can cause much trouble, but also carries exceptional positive opportunities.

Introduction

For many persons who stutter (like myself), stuttering is the greatest shame of life. It is the reason  for being regarded as a poor communicator, and for not being fully accepted by friends, employers or society. It creates difficulties in romantic relationships and in very many other situations. This is the reason why many who stutter are constantly looking for ways to get out of stuttering. Or at least to hide it.

Presented here is a different approach to stuttering. It is a way of understanding that stuttering also carries exceptional opportunities.

Childhood

I was born in Łódź (Poland) in the year 1948. My birth names are Ryszard Benjamin. So in Poland people call me Rysio, and anywhere else – Benny.  During my first eight years of life, I grew up in Poland as a normal Polish child.   In April 1957 my family emigrated to Israel.

My speech problems had started already in Poland, when speaking Polish.  Those problems were diagnosed as stuttering in Israel. Stuttering had and still has great impact on my life and my family.  I have been involved with numerous speech therapies such as:  psychoanalysis, breathing exercises, speaking with rhythm controls, moving fingers and much more.  I guess I have tried most of the therapies available, then and now.  And I still stutter. The problem with all those therapies was not that they failed to help.  In fact, they helped a great deal. But they didn’t fulfill my and my family’s expectations of a total stop of stuttering.

In childhood and youth I was ready to do anything to get rid of my stuttering, which I regarded as awful.  This was the greatest trouble and greatest frustration of my life.  It was the reason why I did not participate in class discussions, did not answer teachers’ questions even in cases when I knew the answers, was afraid to attend social events, could not show my skills to people, and felt compelled to fight with children who made fun of me, among many other negative consequences.

When I was older I saw no hope in the available therapies. I then started my own journey to find a cure for stuttering. That journey brought no end to my stuttering. But it did bring me to unexpected places and discoveries.

Psychological period

What I call my Psychological period started in the early seventies while I was studying at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa.  At that time, psychology was for me an additional subject to my main studies of aeronautical engineering[2].  Study of psychology had a very strong impact on me, showing me how to see and relate to many problems of life.  This changed me in many aspects.

But, why was I interested in psychology studies in the first place? Why was I interested in psychology while being an engineering student?

My interest in psychology was due to a then widely held belief that stuttering is primarily a psychological problem. So, studying psychology was based in my hope of getting rid of the “terrible” problem of stuttering.

“I am” period

My “I am” period lasted from the mid-seventies until the mid-eighties. During those years I was part of a support system of large-sized awareness workshops called “I am”. These workshops were brought to Israel from South Africa by Mr. Pat Grove.

Pat was a  very powerful person. His enormous strength was hidden in his ability to speak. This man seemed able to move thousands of people just through his English speaking.

The “I am” workshops were huge, numbering 200 participants, 300 participants and more.

Awareness workshops of those sizes are something extraordinary, especially in a small country like Israel. They created a noisy turmoil in the Israeli media, accompanied by bizarre clashes with the psychiatric authorities who warned the public against such “dangerous sects”.

But “I am” was not a sect. It was in fact great fun, and that is why so many rushed to participate.  At that time Pat Grove was my guru. Most of all I wanted to be like him. More precisely to speak like him.

Pat was not only my guru, but a guru of many others, and was adored by many. At that time he was a well-known and much respected VIP in Israel.

One day I received a personal message from Pat Grove. Pat invited me for a meeting over a cup of coffee. Such an invitation at that time was beyond all my dreams!  I was in shock! I could not understand how such a great person like Pat Grove would waste his precious time on a stutterer like myself.

Meeting Pat Grove

During the meeting with Pat Grove, he looked at me with his sharp eyes and told me: “You know, Benny, I am stuttering just like you.”  That was a second and much greater shock – it was simply unbelievable – Pat Grove, the greatest speaker – is a stutterer.  Oh no!…. But, as it appeared, he was.  During that meeting Pat said something else: “Your problem is not the stuttering. Your problem is the way you see and relate to your stuttering.”  Pat greatly elaborated, trying to explain what he meant. I nodded my head, pretending to understand.  But in fact – I did not understand.

I only understood some years after.

Unfortunately, Pat Grove passed away a few years ago.  Pat was one of the greatest people I ever knew, maybe even the greatest. Yet he was a person who stuttered.

Indian Period

Immediately after the “I am” period, my Indian period began.  These were years in which I flew many times to India and spent much time there. This period lasted from the mid-eighties until the mid-nineties. In India I stayed mostly in the city of Poona, in the “OSHO commune”, which is the main center of activity of a great and most famous Indian guru, OSHO[3]. I was an OSHO follower, or as it is called, one of the OSHO Sanyasin[4].

In the OSHO commune I found myself in a magic world.  A place of spirituality, beauty and mystery. It was something completely different from where I had come.  A place In which I found myself surrounded with love and magic[5].

OSHO commune is an International place with many people from around the world. This is a place of spirituality based on Zen Buddhism. A place of meditations, workshops, educational programs and other activities.

The beauty of the OSHO commune serves as a backdrop for the intensive spiritual work done there.

In OSHO commune I learned and experienced meditations, participated in workshops, and completed a few intensive courses. This was a very deep process that made me look inside myself, which brought joy and spiritual growth.

In addition I met many people, including some whose spiritual wisdom and beauty influenced me deeply.

In one of the processes in the OSHO commune I was instructed to go out and beg for money – I was a beggar in India! Well, somehow I earned some rupees. However, it was a tough and stunning process, which at the end of the day undermined my survival attitudes with regard to money.

There was another process called “Mystic Rose” which lasted three weeks. During the first week we were laughing (for eight hours each day).  During the second week we were crying (again for eight hours each day).  The third week consisted of seven days of meditation. Such a process puts you in quite a shock, after which it is difficult to recognize yourself.

The Indian period was an exceptional time frame with unbelievable sequences of experiences, through which my personality crashed into pieces and a new personality emerged.

What happened to my stuttering

So I passed through all those periods of time…  The Psychological period had a very strong impact on me, showing me how to see and relate to many problems of life, changing me in many ways.  But when that ended… I was still a Person Who Stutters.  Then my “I am” workshop was based in the hope of stopping my stuttering. “I am” changed me, and as a result I started to speak in public. But, it had no influence on my stuttering.

Then it was OSHO in India… OSHO was my hope of getting rid of my “terrible” stuttering.  In India, in that magic place, my personality changed drastically. I now had new capabilities to see and perceive the world.

But that new personality was of a Person Who Stutters.

Today… I still stutter.

Self-help group for People Who Stutter

In the summer of 1997 I found myself in a meeting of a self-help group for people who stutter. This meeting took place in a house called “Beit Leni”, located on King George Street in Tel Aviv.

The guy in charge of that meeting was a young and handsome psychologist – Pinchas, also a PWS. Pinchas was desperately trying to lead that meeting, but could not.  This was mainly due to my own behaviour – I simply could not stand it.  At that time, to sit together with other stutterers was a nightmare!  My poor behaviour at the meeting reflected that feeling.

A few days after the meeting I received a phone call from a secretary of Beit Leni. She told me that Pinchas decided to leave the group, and that from now on, I was to be the group leader.

At first I treated that message as a joke. But after realizing it was a serious offer, I did some more thinking, and then took on the challenge.  Somehow it was clear that this was an opportunity for a new and much bigger transformation.

So I began to lead the group, making use of my knowledge and experience.

Our group held many meetings – support meetings, self-help meetings, public speaking meetings. As time passed, we joined other groups of people who stutter in other parts of Israel – in Jerusalem and Haifa.

In April 1999 that self-help group of PWS became AMBI – the Israel Stuttering Association.

AMBI – Israel Stuttering Association

In AMBI I found myself in a new reality, one in which I supported people who stutter while also being a person who stutters myself.  My stuttering became a tool to show other people who stutter that life is acceptable with stuttering. In this reality my attitudes toward stuttering were bound to change from “an awful disaster” into “possibilities and opportunities”.

In addition I started engaging in activities which were completely new for me.

For example:

  • I started directing many support groups for people who stutter.
  • I started organizing huge stuttering conventions.
  • I started appearing in media – on radio, on TV, in newspapers – trying to increase the general public awareness of stuttering.
  • I started meeting VIP’s such as government ministers, mayors, famous movie and theater actors.

Actually, I became a VIP myself.  A VIP who stutters (ha, ha, ha)!

My career as AMBI leader lasted 16 years, from 1999 until 2015.  Today my official title in AMBI is “Honorary President”.

During the years 2007 to 2010 I served also as the Chair of the International Stuttering Association [ISA].

ISA – International Stuttering Association

I was elected to be ISA Chair at the 8th World Congress for People Who Stutter, in Cavtat-Dubrovnik, Croatia, May 6-11, 2007[6].

My main goal in leading the ISA was to fulfill its vision of:  A World that Understands Stuttering. But, what is that world?

That is a world in which a person who stutters can be free from the bonds of stuttering. Or in other words, it is an environment in which people who stutter can develop their aspirations and talents (as stated in the Bill of Rights and Responsibilities of People Who Stutter[7]).

If you want to fulfill your vision and your beautiful dreams, you must face the reality in the first place.  But the reality is that international organizations like the ISA are flooded with politics and with regional and personal interests. As a result, most of my time as the ISA Chair was devoted unfortunately to the internal political activities of the association.  In the year 2010 I ended my role as the ISA Chair and resumed my duties in AMBI.

One lasting result of my term as ISA Chair is an impressive website[8] for the association, and the beautiful ISA logo (I directed  the voting process for it).

Looking back today on my period of being the ISA Chair, I can say that I fulfilled only a part of my vision and dreams. However, I received a priceless lesson, about human communication and relationship.

Stuttering – The greatest opportunity

In AMBI and in the ISA I understood what Pat Grove meant by saying: “Your problem is not the stuttering – your problem is the way you see and relate to your stuttering.”

What I understood is – that stuttering is the greatest opportunity of my life!

Without stuttering I would have never reached all those magic places mentioned above and so many others.

How would my life look without stuttering?…

  • Would I have learned psychology?
  • Would I have met Pat Grove in the “I am” workshops?
  • Would I have been an OSHO Sannyasin?
  • Would I have been a founder of AMBI?
  • Would I have been the ISA Chair?
  • Would I have written this article?
  • And very many other such questions….

My life without stuttering would have been miserable!

 

Summary

Now, in retrospect with all those experiences described in this article, I believe that stuttering was and still is the greatest opportunity of my life. It has brought me to places which I would have never reached without it.

I am proud to be a person who stutters, and at the same time grateful to stuttering for all those opportunities it has given to me, and for those still to come…

 

References

[1] This article is a written version of a keynote speech given on Aug 26, 2016 during the second edition of international  Conference on Logopedics, Fluency disorders: Theory and Practice, University of Silesia, Faculty of Theology, Katowice Poland.

An expanded version of this text, translated into Polish, will appear in the book Zaburzenia płynności mowy (Speech fluency disorders), prepared for printing in the publishing house Harmonia Universalis (Gdańsk, Poland).

[2]              In the Technion during those years, engineering students had to also learn non-engineering subjects such as the arts, literature, and psychology, along with many other options. My choice was to take the course “Introduction to Psychology”.

[3] OSHO, formerly known as Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, was an Indian mystic, guru, and spiritual teacher. The international Rajneesh movement has continued after his death.  See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rajneesh

[4]A formal title of OSHO followers.

[5]It was my personal feeling that time

[6]           See: http://www.isastutter.org/8th-world-congress-croatia-2007

[7]           See: http://www.isastutter.org/bill-of-rights-and-responsibilities

[8]              The ISA website is beautifully developed and maintained today by Bruce Imhoff  from Australia.

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Comments

Stuttering is an opportunity (Benny Ravid) — 20 Comments

  1. Thank you for posting such a raw and enlightening picture of your past. There is something to be said when a person takes such a “defeating” issue in their life and turns it into an opportunity to grow. Each period in your life where you hoped for your stuttering to be fixed became a giant stepping stone for learning and growth. Not only was your life story intriguing to read, I also felt as though your story is a poster for others who stutter and what their life can become. To take it one step further, I believe that anyone suffering from “defeating” issues of any kind would benefit greatly from your example. Being able to label stuttering as “The greatest opportunity of your life” proves that you conquered something that had the potential to defeat you if allowed.

  2. Benny,

    I really appreciate you taking the time to share such an intriguing story pertaining to how something so stigmatized like stuttering can actually be a such a positive factor in one’s life. When something is viewed in such a negative light by others, it is only natural for us as an individual to feel like that problem will inhibit us from living a full, happy life. However, your piece highlighted how critical it is for people to accept what is happening and understand that we are in control of our response to issues or problems that occur in our life. Although we cannot control what happens to us, we ARE able to control how we respond. Your philosophy is so great because it not only applies to the stuttering community, but it applies to all other aspects of life, too.

    Best,
    Nicole

  3. Thank you for sharing this powerful story about your life. I love your positive outlook on stuttering and I admire your accomplishments. I liked the statement: “Your problem is not the stuttering. Your problem is the way you see and relate to your stuttering.” How could you help someone to shift the way that they think about their stuttering to see and relate to their stuttering in a more accepting way?

    • Leah
      How to help someone to shift the way he or she think about stuttering??
      Very important question – Thank you for asking it.
      There is no easy answer. However, this is what we try to do in the self-help groups for PWS.

  4. Benny,
    Thank you for your honesty in this post. It is eye-opening to hear your perspective on your journey and I know it will be an encouragement to all who read it. It is much easier said than done to “look at the bright side” when adversity comes your way. Your response to stuttering and its effect on you shows immense character. I am studying to become a speech-language pathologist and was wondering if you had any advice on things we could do to counsel our clients that stutter. Was there something specific in your life that occurred to make you change your perspective on stuttering? Or was it the entirety of your journey of personal experiences and leadership opportunities? I want to be able to serve my clients in the best way possible and I know that emotions are a big component in people who stutter, as well as others with speech and language disorders. I see that in later life you participated in, and led a support group. Do you think a support group would have been beneficial when you were younger? In your opinion, how can we help our clients see and relate to their stuttering?

    • Dear Anna

      Thank you for your questions.

      Looking back I would say that the greatest shift in my approach towards stuttering, happened during my activity in AMBI-Israel Stuttering Association.
      Hence, in my opinion the participation in Self Help groups and other activities of the Stuttering Associations, such as public speaking etc. Are very beneficial for PWS.

  5. Benny, thank you for courageously allowing others to also benefit from your experiences as a person who stutters. Your reflections are an important reminder that there is always value to be had in periods of suffering. I am currently a graduate student in speech-language pathology, and I was reading your paper I realized something: by attempting to help my patients “reduce” or “fix” their stuttering, they will likely believe that their stuttering is a condition to be cured. After reading your story, this is the last thing that I want to make my patients feel. As a person who stutters, how can I help my patients reconcile the fact that the goal of therapy is to change their stuttering with the truth stuttering also has value?

    • Each patient is different, each therapist is different and each patient/therapist interaction is different. Hence there is no way to give the kind of advice you are asking for.
      As a therapist you will have to find your own way to cope with your patient stuttering.
      All I can say is that your patient will have to be brought to such position in which he or she will understand that:
      Stuttering is OK and the communication with stuttering is OK.
      As a result he or she will be able to:
      Demand the respect they deserve (with stuttering) – to demand the respect they deserve. NOT expect it.

  6. Hello Benny,

    Thank you for sharing such an intersting account! I enjoyed reading it very much. I was wondering about your thoughts on what led to the transitions between the different periods you described in your article (e.g., the “I am” period, the Indian period)? Was there something missing in each period that led you to find it in the next? I would be very interested to hear your response. Thank you!

  7. Your written speech is inspiring; thank you for posting it! There is so much emotion in your words that I can sense your passion for the subject. The way you have challenged yourself through discovery is amazing. Throughout your experiences, you didn’t let anyone get in the way of your values, and I like how you said, “stuttering is the greatest opportunity of my life.” Sometimes in life we take what some people think of as “negative” and we dwell on it and think of it in that negative way as well, but you have taken the situations you’ve been given and have turned them into greatness! This can help speech pathologists understand that stuttering doesn’t need to be resolved to perfect, fluent speech, but rather deserves to be recognized as a period of greatness!

  8. Hello Benny,

    I am a speech-language pathology graduate student at Touro College. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us. You did not let stuttering get in the way of your life. In fact it opened up a lot of doors to many different opportunities for you. I really liked that you said that “stuttering was the greatest opportunity of my life.” Just Iike many other individuals who stutter, stuttering had a great emotional impact on your life as a child. My question for you is the following:

    – Nowadays many speech-language pathologists are using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to target the anxiety related to stuttering. Would you recommend this type of therapy to individuals who stutter? Do you think Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is effective?

  9. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and experiences. I am a graduate student, studying to be a speech-language pathologist. You mentioned that it took many years and several experiences that helped you understand and accept your stutter. In your opinion, do other people go through similar stages of acceptance? Do you know many people who, after a lifetime of stuttering, still haven’t accepted their stutter? Thank you again.

  10. Benny,
    You make it clear that accepting yourself as a person who stutters has been a life long process. Each experience built on what you had already learned about yourself. I was surprised by how quickly your attitude changed, regarding the support group. It was like a light switch. One day you “could not stand it,” and the a few days later you were leading the group! It seemed like a pivotal moment in your journey.

    Was there something about your experience up to that point that contributed to your decision to lead the group? What pushed you to accept the position?

  11. It was wonderful to read about your yourney, Benny, and I’m happy and proud to have been a part of it. You have given to much of yourself to the stuttering world and I’m sure you will continue doing that. Your positiveness and experiences are a treasure and I’m happy you share it with others.

    Keep talking!

    Anita S. Blom, Sweden

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