Grace in stammering advocacy
21st March 2023
In a follow up to his last article, James Hayden, our regular contributor from the US, explains why it's important to show grace to others and to yourself.
In my last article, 'What taking a hiatus taught me about advocacy', I spoke about the burnout I felt being an advocate for stuttering, then how I reconnected with the community. (An advocate being 'a person who publicly supports or recommends a particular cause or policy'.)
If you were to make a recipe for advocacy, what would your ingredients be? I'm sure the obvious ingredients you think of are: time, money and resources. Another one could be knowing the facts about the topic. Depending on where you live, you might add some big events to your recipe. Throw in that secret family ingredient that's been handed down for many generations and you're done, right?
For me, this recipe is missing what I think is the most important ingredient of them all: grace.
Whenever someone makes a dumb comment about stuttering or laughs during a stuttering moment, I need to make sure grace is present in my response to them.
I'm not talking about grace in the religious sense of the word. The grace I'm referring to has three main definitions. It's kindness mixed with understanding. It's realising bad things can come from good intentions. It's compassion for self and others mixed with the desire to improve yourself.
Over the past few months, my definition of, and how I live, advocacy has drastically changed. Regardless of how I advocate, grace needs to be present. I know that might sound weird, so allow me to explain.
Whenever someone makes a dumb comment about stuttering or laughs during a stuttering moment, I need to make sure grace is present in my response to them. They may have never met a person who stutters before and don't know how to properly respond. Their default response might be to attempt to make a bad joke or laugh. When that happens, I give a stern but graceful explanation on how they can react better the next time they encounter someone who stammers. I do this so that that person has a better experience than I did.
Likewise, when someone tells me, "Take a deep breath and slow down", "There’s nothing to be nervous about", or "We have all the time in the world", or any of the other various popular sayings and/or attempts to finish my sentences, I extend them grace. Like my friends who say dumb things, they might have never met a person who stutters and their default response is to 'help'. In those moments, I need to realise their words and/or attempts to fill in my silent blocks come from a good place. I make sure my response has grace and acknowledges their good intentions, but also corrects and tells them why their words do more harm than good.
Showing grace also needs to be extended to ourselves on our rough days.
Showing grace also needs to be extended to ourselves on our rough days. The days when stuttering prevents us from saying what we want to say. The days when being a person who is silent is better than being a person who stutters. The days when stuttering holds us back from betting on ourselves. I say us because I'm included in that number.
Up until recently, I didn't want to be in that number. Part of it was due to ego. Part of it was due to the high expectations I put on myself. And, if I'm being honest, part of it was because I didn't feel like I deserved it. Being a somewhat known figure in the stuttering community, I thought I had to be 'on' at all times. That I had to be James the advocate instead of being James the person, whether I was guest lecturing or picking up my pizza at Domino's.
When I didn't advocate, I thought I had failed the stuttering community, my public persona, and in a way myself. When that happened, I would partake in one of my favourite pastimes: being hard on myself. I would get mad at myself for not living up to the perception of me. Mad that in the moment I chose person over persona. I would be mad at myself because I didn't want to deal with stuttering in that moment when I spend so many moments being a voice for people who stutter.
Through my recent hiatus from advocating, I learned the value of giving myself grace. For the times I just smile, nod, and move on when someone tries to 'help'. For the times when I point at what I want to order instead of saying it. For the times when I'm not the person I needed when I was younger. The grace to remind myself that, regardless of how I live out advocacy, "I am good. I am loved. I am enough."
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