SAY: The Stuttering Association for the Young


That Desire to Be Heard

May 9, 2014

Jonathan Greig –

I was very excited to write this story, because I haven’t written about stuttering in a while. But as I sat down to write, I was left in a tough spot. I wasn’t sure what direction to go, as stuttering is still a significant difficulty for me on a daily, minute-to-minute, sentence-to-sentence basis. I would be lying if I wrote some ultra-positive, all-will-be-well story about how I defeated my stutter.

Yet, in looking at my accomplishments in life so far, I also couldn’t write an entirely negative post about how stuttering has left me in some pit of despair. Like everyone else, I have good days and bad days. But I’ve been extremely lucky to have a family pushing me to be the best, and more importantly refusing to let me accept my stutter as a reason why I shouldn’t excel at anything I put my mind to.

I decided that it would be best to talk about my decision to go into journalism, a profession that is almost entirely reliant on your ability to be talkative and fleet of tongue.

I still remember sitting in the common room of my fraternity in college, quietly Google-ing “professions that require no speaking” as my friends drank, laughed and talked about which investment bank they wanted to work for once they graduated, or whether they wanted to head to law school instead of business school.

I remember going down the list of search results and reading each link before closing the browser in frustration and joining my friends.

I realized that there was nowhere to hide. There is no magical profession where you can walk in and thrive without saying a word. Eventually, you have to open your mouth and say something.

Journalism was always in the back of my mind, because since the days of my time in Our Time (now SAY!), I loved to tell a variety of stories. And after 4 years of trying my hand at writing fiction, I felt something missing. There was something so disconnected about it, so removed from reality that it left me wanting to give my writing some sort of purpose and reason for existing other than for purposes of entertainment.

It was only until my first term of grad school that I realized the tough spot I had put myself in. One of my classmates, after hearing me speak and asking me about my stutter, paused before saying, “Well, okay, but how are you gonna ask questions?”

Of course I had thought about it before that point, but it wasn’t until her question and my first interview that I comprehended just how difficult it would be for me to work in a profession like journalism.

The problem was larger than just asking questions fluently. Journalists must have a certain savoir-faire to them, a veritable ease of conversing that makes people feel willing and open to admit things they normally wouldn’t admit to a person they just met. And stuttering, as my previous 23 years on this Earth have proven, is decidedly not easy for people to deal with, and tends to make others reticent when it comes to speaking to you.

It was extremely hard at first, and it still is to this day. But the accomplishments you remember most vividly are the ones you had to work the hardest for. The ones where you had to push yourself to another gear you didn’t even know existed within you. Being a fresh-faced college grad working with/against seasoned journalists was tough in and of itself, and having a stutter like mine made things even tougher. But having to work harder than everyone else to get just as far means you don’t know any other way to do things, and I was good enough precisely because of it.

All this being said, it was only recently that I realized the true reason, either subconsciously or otherwise, behind my decision to choose journalism as a profession. I was on a reporting trip for the U.N. organization I work for in northern Iraq, interviewing Syrian Refugees living in refugee camps. We were covering International Women’s Day events at the camp, and I was speaking to a woman participating in the festivities.

When she spoke to me, her bright green eyes lit up as she described how her husband and son made their way from Syria to the Iraqi border. It wasn’t a happy story by any stretch of the imagination, but she told it to me with such ferocity that I couldn’t get it out of my mind once we made our way back to our hotel.

It was only in thinking about it deeply that I realized why she told me her story in such a way.

That desire to be heard; the yearning to have your words and story appreciated by another is intrinsic within us all.

As a person caught in the middle of a war that largely had nothing to do with her, just the fact that she was speaking to me and that someone cared enough about her life and her story to ask about it gave her a certain amount of pride.

And at the end of the day it’s exactly what people who stutter (and really, all of us) are looking for. An appreciation for our stories, ideas and dreams. An acknowledgement of our voice and the fact that it is just as meaningful and worthy as anyone else’s. This desire is what drives many of us, and is often all people who stutter are looking for.

Even as I continue to deal with my stuttering and the struggles that come along with it, I take solace in knowing that to some extent, my writing is a vehicle for others who feel disregarded and left behind, giving them, even if momentarily, a feeling of being heard.

Jonathan is a recent Medill School of Journalism graduate working for the International Organization for Migration in Amman, Jordan. He spent 7 very happy years as a member of Our Time and worked as a volunteer for the first Our Time in Chicago last summer. He can’t thank Taro and the rest of the Our Time staff enough for turning a quiet little 11-year-old into a guy who can’t stop asking questions.
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