Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Who are the real heros to be honored?

Recently the American Institute of Stuttering (AIS) has honored the actress Emily Blunt, and last year they honored vice-president Joe Biden. Both have stuttered as teenagers, but are now completely fluent. So why should they be honored?

As a role model? Hardly, the simple fact is that Emily and Biden have no clue whatsoever what made them not stutter any more, it just happened to them. As it just did not happen to me and millions of others. But in itself not something that needs to be honored more than the millions of people who live with stuttering in their daily lives. The travesty is reflected in Biden's statement that "In my darkest days I would not trade my stuttering for what it's taught me and what it's made me. It's been the single most beneficial thing that's ever happened to me... having overcome it." Yes, but I can say the same thing about any tragedy that happened to me where I came out of unscathed. Take a air plane crash. If you can out of it alive, it does enrich your life and give you a new perspective. But of course, if you are among the dead or handicapped for life, how would you feel about such a statement? They have done nothing nothing at all to deserve their fluency more than all the millions who kept on stuttering. How many of us have tried to become fluent? Some of us, the real heros for me, have managed to keep it under control after very very hard work. But what have they done? They are the freak accidents of nature which made them fluent. God knows why.
They are not role models for stutterers. Emily is fluent. If you want role models for young women who stutter, go to StutterTalk, and listen to Elana Yudman and Kristel Kubert and Caryn Herring and Samantha Gennuso. Of course, if you want a role model for acting skills, model looks, fashion icon, cuteness, down-to-earth, supporter of good causes, then take Emily. (Of course I am not saying that all the 4 girls from Stutter Talk could not rival her  :-)

It is commendable that they do not forget the experience and pain of stuttering and that they take time away to support the cause. And I grant Emily a bigger credit here as Biden for she hardly has any other incentives. But should we honor them for such minimal effort? Invite them as key speakers. Fine. Thank them for supporting the cause. Fine. But do not honor them as you dishonor the others. Many spend a lot of time and resources on stuttering.You should honor StutterTalk's Peter and Eric, Greg Snyder, myself or others. Have we ever received an award yet, no! Or give an award to Per Alm who changed his career to work on stuttering and does diligent work to debunk research.

So why are they honored? For two very simple reasons: publicity and money. If Emily or Biden is on the picture, AIS is getting more exposure in the media and more attention from others. More people hear about them and ultimately someone might donate. Would I as AIS director do the same? Yes but still it is a corrupt system, which does not attribute honour to those who contribute most.


Anonymous said...

Well said. Adaptation and coping require pushing a cart, each day, up a hill. Some days, the hill is less steep than others.

Pam said...

I have also wondered why Emily Blunt has got so much attention. Before being courted by AIS, she there was a big story about her in Parade Magazine. She is fluent.

For the same reasons you state, I often wonder why such a big deal is made about Famous People Who Stutter,and the posters that are made. Tiger Woods, Bruce Willis, etc. In chatting with Peter and Eric,and another time with Greg, I had suggested we come up with a poster of Ordinary people living Extraordinary lives, stuttering and getting on with life.

For National Stuttering Awareness Week last month, I visited a middle school, and did a slide show about stuttering, what it is, yada yada. For pictures, I had ordinary looking kids,no names,no fame. I asked the kids if they knew who they were, or who did they look like. The kids had no clue. And that was the point.

Kids who stutter look just like kids who don't stutter, and that point made more sense than Tiger Woods, who 99% of kids will never be. Ordinary people talking about stuttering and leading authentic lives, thats what its all about.

Right now, AIS has a couple of vid clips of Roisin, who has also been on Stuttertalk. She is a young college student studying to be a nurse, and leading her life. She wants to gain some control of her stuttering. I hope her story is followed and and given as much PR as Blunt and Biden, whether she does or doesn't become more fluent.

People who walk the walk everyday are real everyday heros.
Eric, Peter, Greg, you, and the other bloggers and podcasters out there who do this just to make a difference, that counts.

I have talked to some people lately on Skype from England and Germany, and been in email contact with a woman from Trinindad. We all stutter, and all share the same worries, fears, tears and triumphs, big and small. It's the emotional connection of ordinary people who get it. Not the stars!

I will climb off the pedestal now.
Thanks for your honesty and for bringing it up.

Daniele Rossi said...

Hear! Hear! I'm tired of hearing about celebrities who never stutter in front of a camera. Not very good role models indeed. Sure, it's nice to see that you can still become rich and famous but where's the audible street cred? All I see are role models for covert stuttering, avoidance or stutterers who happen to cease stuttering on stage. Well done, Tom. Great post.

Anonymous said...

Let's face it, very few people have ever heard of organisations like the AIS and BSA, so the impact of honouring Emily Blunt and Joe Biden has very little relevance. A friend of mine in the U.S is a stutterer and also a lecturer in political science. When I happened to mention to him that Joe Biden was a childhood stutterer, he was surprised. By the way, Emily Blunt's wikipedia entry does not mention stuttering. Same goes for Carly Simon, Charles Darwin, and Isaac Newton. Bruce Willis and Joe Biden rate only a very brief mention of stuttering in wikipedia.
So the bottom line is that nobody cares that these people stutter/stuttered ... well, maybe the stutterers care a lot.

But if these organisations (AIS, BSA, etc) want to honour somebody, it doesn't have to be an actor or politician or internet activist (like Snyder, Eric, etc). Why can't it be the ordinary stutterer in the street? I know people that have done very well in life *despite* having severe stutters. For example, I know a guy who runs a successful business, has raised 2 children, and enjoys life to the fullest, despite having a very noticeable stutter. Isn't he a great role-model for a young kid with a stutter?

Anonymous said...

Great post!

Anonymous said...


This is a great idea. Good luck with it!

Peter Reitzes

Leys Geddes said...

Anon, the BSA is creating awareness of stammering, not itself. The BSA has never wanted to honour a recovered stammerer. And the BSA and the AIS are very different things, so it is strange to bracket the two of them together.


Fertility godess said...

Wow, great comments, what great company to be in, real people who stutter and gets it.

Great post Tom.

Anonymous said...

IT isn't really a question of whether Blunt or Biden are examples of people living with stuttering. But rather people in the limelight who can shed light on an affliction that remains relatively hidden in everyday society. Hearing that a celebrity went thru something that you are going thru or someone you know is going thru gives it legitimacy and relavance. I wish that Austin Pendleton will be given the title next year :)