A few things have cropped up recently that made me think about acceptance of stammering. We're often told, certainly as adults who stammer, to 'accept our stammer'. Accept the fact that you stammer. Perhaps even embrace it? But what does that actually mean?
For some people who stammer, accepting their stammer appears to mean resignation. For them, it means accepting the inevitable, accepting that nothing can be done. It means giving up in the face of this Thing that makes our lives hard, and more difficult and - at times - miserable.
"Far from it!" say those who believe in acceptance. Acceptance means finding peace. Letting go. How can you change, if you don't accept where you are? Don't chase the Fluency God, because this is not who you are.
But then, acceptance for many may be a therapeutic choice, ironically with the desired side-effect of increased fluency - the less stressed we are about speaking, the less likely we are to stammer.
After reading Clare Butler's research on "Wanted - straight talkers: stammering and aesthetic labour", and attending the Social Model of Disability workshop at the Oxford Dysfluency Conference (ODC) this July, I've been wondering if 'acceptance' is the right term for what we're looking for? Does it miss the problem, create unnecessary division and a dichotomy that doesn't actually exist?
Here goes nothing, getting ready to get shot down in flames! :-)
Clare's research, interviewing 36 adults who stammer of all ages about their employment experience, highlights one thing very clearly - people who stammer often 'own' the misconceptions and prejudices that people who don't stammer have towards us. We actually often believe we're less capable. We often believe that stammering is shameful and embarrassing. We know we're often not really listened to when we stammer, and we often believe that that's understandable and right. We believe we must be fluent to communicate well, and it has been made clear to us in a million little ways since we were little children that we're not really good at this thing called communication. Feeling that difference, feeling the pressure, the people she interviewed often believed they had to go beyond the normal call of duty, had to develop extra skills, had to be seen to be especially committed - in her words, expending 'emotional labour' to make up for a perceived shortcoming.
The workshop at ODC gave me a term for this - internalised oppression, defined in Wikipedia as "the manner in which members of an oppressed group come to internalise the oppressive attitudes of others toward themselves and those like them" who come to "hold an oppressive view toward their own group, or start to believe in negative stereotypes".
So, how about instead of splitting into the Fluency Camp and the Acceptance camp, we all decide to throw off this oppression and stop believing all this rubbish about us as people who stammer?
Because once we know these truths, that what we say has value, no matter how we say it; that we can be excellent communicators; that what we are is worth no less than anybody else, then it becomes immaterial if we choose to work on fluency because life's just easier that way and we're not doing it to hide, or out of shame; and it is equally ok to decide not to go down the fluency route because what I say is worth listening to, however I say it.
Therefore, let’s be liberated rather than accepting!