MEMOIRS OF A STUTTERING THERAPIST, © Dr. Martin F. Schwartz|
A Country Western Singer
A number of years ago I had the opportunity to work with a famous country western singer. He is also an actor and comedian and a well-known stutterer. I worked with him in my office privately. I later found out that his entourage, those who traveled with him, were less than enthusiastic about my working with him, feeling that if he stopped stuttering their careers would be in jeopardy.
I was invited by him to see his show at a famous gambling casino in Reno, Nevada. As I watched, I saw a show built around stuttering. Jokes about stuttering abounded and the audience openly laughed. For example, he would say: 'My stuttering was so bad when I was young, if I wanted to ask a girl out on Saturday I'd have to start on Tuesday' or 'Burt Reynolds asked me to stop stuttering because if I did, he would get me a part in a movie where I get to kiss the woman.'
Halfway through this combination of songs and self-deprecating but good-natured stuttering humor a spotlight shone on me and he paused his show and pointed toward me and said 'This here is Dr. Schwartz from New York. He's going to show me how to stop my stuttering.' This was met with an immediate uproar of indignation from the audience and I noticed one woman in particular who stood and screamed, 'Don't do it, don't do it, we love you just the way you are.' I thought for an instant I was going to be stoned. It appeared that not only was this singer's entourage opposed to me helping him, but so too were the 3,000 plus in the audience that evening.
It was at that moment that I began to understand something about this man's role in our society. Stuttering has a strong denial component in America, that is, when an adult stutters the reaction of most people is to pretend nothing is wrong. The reason they do this is that they do not know what to say or do - since no one has ever told them what to say or do and the last thing they want to do is to make the stuttering worse or offend the stutterer, and so in the absence of the right knowledge, they pretend it isn't there. Seen in that light, stuttering represents a national conspiracy of denial. And the stutterer, in the face of such a conspiracy, denies it as well. No one says anything and everyone suffers.
What this singer does, by openly acknowledging his stuttering, in the form of self-deprecating humor, is to permit the public to discharge the denial-based anxiety they normally experience when they hear someone stutter. It is the one place on planet earth where non-stutters can, in a non-offensive and supportive environment, laugh about a topic that remains too taboo for most adults to discuss.
What I was doing in that environment was challenging and attempting to silence this mass therapeutic catharsis and the audience was telling me, in no uncertain terms, that they would have none of it.
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