About the Author:
My name is Rik Mets, 27 years old and living in Spakenburg, The Netherlands. I have stuttered since I was a child and for the past five years I have worked as a history teacher. In my spare time I like to read, write, sing and play the guitar.
I have a severe stutter, but I cannot say I have a problem with it.
No, I did not come up with this joke, although I use it on a frequent basis. It was written years ago by the Dutch comedian Herman Finkers who actually stutters in real life, yet who has never made stuttering a part of his shows. From an early age, Finkers has been a great inspiration in my life and to this day I can quote him on many an occasion, sometimes to the annoyance of others.
Humour has always been an important part of my life. It started as a way to be heard. Picture this. A young child desperately wants to be heard for he has something to say, but as he stutters, his story takes too long and people lose interest as their attention span is limited. They lose focus, the child notices this and begins to stutter even more. In the end, he refrains from finishing his story. Next time, he might not even say anything. If you stutter yourself or if you know anyone in your circle who stutters, this might come across as recognisable.
Now picture this. That same child still wants to say something. Knowing that it might take a long time, he wraps his story in a joke. Now people want to know the end, the climax of the joke, so they keep listening. The story ends, people laugh and the child is happy, for he has finally been heard. And next time, people might actually pay attention to him from the start, perhaps it will be as funny as last time.
Later on, humour became a coping mechanism for me. When tragedy struck, as it does in all of our lives, telling jokes was a method of not having to talk about my feelings. Hide it behind a smile and make people laugh, so they won’t ask any further questions about your state of mind. Humour became a shield, an armour, behind which I could hide from what I did not want to think about. In a way, it still is to this very day.
But what has any of this to do with this year’s ISAD theme, ‘speak the change you wish to see?’ Up to this point, not very much actually. Hiding from real life behind a façade of jokes is not something I wish more people would do. Quite the opposite actually. If you have faced hardship in your life, and I do hope this is not the case, then I would suggest talking about it to friends and loved ones, not burying it. I did bury it. It did not work out.
The meaning of humour has changed for me over the last few years. During my time as a student, I would not talk about my stuttering very often. As I said, I used to hide it behind a joke. But when I started my first job, that did not work anymore as I found out after a few tries. I became a history teacher, which meant having to talk. Quite a lot. Every day. To a few hundred teenagers and colleagues. And they had questions about it. Why did I stutter, why did I not get therapy, was I born with it, et cetera. But more importantly, they had doubts about me. Doubts I did not have about myself. I knew I could be a good teacher. At least I knew enough about history, believe me. But since both my students and colleagues were not used to having a person who stutters in their midst, they had reservations and preconceptions about my capabilities.
But it wasn’t just the preconceptions people had about my stuttering. I noticed how difficult both students and colleagues found it to talk to me about it. It was palpable to me that they did not want to address the elephant in the room, even though it was so clearly there every time I opened my mouth to speak. In order to become accepted, I had to break down that wall. And so, I used jokes again.
‘Sure, I can introduce myself. How much time do I have?’
‘I am about to give a ten-minute lecture, so I will be talking for approximately thirty minutes. If you have any trouble keeping up with your notes, just let me know, so I can stutter a bit more.’
An important part of accepting my stuttering has been to be open about it and using jokes has helped me greatly. Not just professionally, where my colleagues have accepted my stuttering as something that is there, that is a part of who I am. No, it works on a more personal level as well. To give an example, my bio on a dating website read ‘I stutter, so if you like long conversations, you have come to the right place.’ Someone responded saying: ‘That joke is so terrible, it made me laugh.’ Two years later, she is now my wife and I get to annoy her every day with terrible jokes and bad puns. According to her, I make a lot of dad-jokes. Which is funny, since we don’t have any children yet. Imagine how bad my jokes are going to get once I actually become a dad!
So when we say ‘speak the change you wish to see,’ this is what I do. It is easy to say – ‘Well I stutter, so I won’t do this or that, it is too hard.’ Or you pick up the gauntlet and accept the challenges life throws in your way. For me, the way to do it is with a joke. That does not mean that my stuttering has gone away. It is still there, every day, in every sentence I speak. But using humour makes it easier to deal with, not just for myself but for others as well. I show them that I can make fun of myself and in doing so, I can open up to them and they can open up to me.
386 total views, 2 views today