I interviewed Leys Geddes-The Current Chairman of The British Stammering Association,and I must say it has left me deeply inspired.In this interview Leys shares with us his experiences as a person who stammers and the difficulties he faced in his day to day life due to his stutter.He tells us about his understanding of the word "Acceptance" and gives useful insights on how a person can achieve anything he has ever aspired for without allowing aything to come in between him and his dream.Plus he answers some questions based on his job experience,how hw got fired,his achievements as a chairman of the BSA.A must read guys :-)
Plz tell us a bit about Leys Geddes in high school?
I went to a public boarding school in Scotland from the ages of 13 to 18. Although I had been born in Edinburgh, and spent long holidays with my Granny who lived in the South of Scotland, I was a little worried about leaving home my home in England, near London, and being 400 miles away, on my own, knowing no one else in the school, and only getting out to see my Granny on three Sundays in every term. But I very soon started to enjoy it, especially the sports and the friendships. I did have difficulties because of my stammer: not really contributing enough in class (so it probably looked as if I was not interested or not trying) and some teasing, of course (but I seem to have forgotten most of the bad things) – but being good at sport definitely made people more understanding and respectful. I only opted out of one thing which was that, when you became a school prefect, you had to read the lesson, to the whole school, in the school chapel, every morning for a week. I still feel a bit guilty about chickening out of that!
I passed six ‘O’ level exams and three ‘A’ levels. I sat the Scholarship exam for Oxford, but failed it – and decided not to go to any other university. I was not really ‘academic’ and, in those days, the late 1960s, the general thinking was that only academic people went to university.
Share with us your “Enough is Enough” moment(s) which made you the person you are today?
But, sometime in my teens, after many useless sessions of old-style speech therapy, I became desensitised to, and thus accepting of, my stammer - because I realised there was something going on which was nothing to do with me being weak or nervous or any of things which are often thought to be the character or psychologically-related reasons why we stammer. So I was quite relieved when the underlying neurological factor was confirmed a few years ago. That discovery allowed me to feel, even more strongly, that I had nothing to be ashamed of when I stammer in public - or private. Acceptance doesn't mean that I am happy about my stammer, nor does it mean that I won't explore therapy from time to time, but it does mean that I can get on with all the great things in life and not worry too much about my speech.
In the early 1980s, I was a Director of a marketing consultancy in London and was fired for stammering. This was long before there were laws to protect us. Anyway, as you can imagine, I was shattered: I was only 31 and had just got married and had our first child. But then one of my clients at that consultancy, BP Retail, phoned me at home to ask why I had been fired. I met them and they were disgusted with what had happened, saying 'We don't give a damn that you stammer, because you do great work for us'. So they suggested I opened up my own consultancy, fired my previous employer and, after a competitive pitch, gave me their business. What a dream, eh? So, whilst I've never lacked confidence, and always talked and stammered nonetheless, that was the best thing that could ever happen to a stammerer.
In 2002, I decided to find out more about stammering, because I had had many years experience in healthcare marketing, dealing with difficult-to-discuss conditions, and I reckoned that people who stammer have a really tough time, no one seemed to be doing anything to change the situation and why was there still no cure, when there was a cure for most other things! I then heard of the BSA, joined them and put myself up for election as a Trustee so I could find out what was going on, learn more about stammering and see how I might be able to help.
What is the one particular thing that helped you to get out of the stuttering mindset?
I’m not sure what the stammering mindset is, but if it a kind of attitude, in which stammering is at the very centre of your life, influencing everything, then I have never had that as a continuous, long term factor in my life. Yes, there have been times when I have felt deeply unhappy about my speech. I feel the awkwardness of dysfluency nearly every day, and still, sometimes, worry that I might not communicate effectively enough, especially in important situations. Most days, I feel the prejudice which needs to be defeated, feel the distance grow - initially - between me and other people when I open new relationships, and feel the frustrations of not having explained myself as clearly or as assertively as I would like. But I accepted long ago that I had a stammer, and got on with life, because we only have one. There was no point, as I saw it, in hanging around hoping for a cure. I was sometimes haunted by the idea of lying on my deathbed, having wasted my life, saying it would have all been so different, if only I hadn’t stammered!
It helps to be an optimist, to avoid allowing stammering to occupy a place in the centre of your life and to try to do things which are more important than your own stammering.
Tell us something about the challenges you face as the chairperson of the BSA ?
I’m very honoured to be Chair of the Trustees, and I welcome the responsibility. Although I have been a director and managing director of many marketing companies, I have never been Chairman of anything thing before, so it is strange to have no executive power. I’m not a kind of Emperor, as some seem to think: I’m first among equals amongst my Trustee colleagues. I think others have made much better Chairs than me but, possibly, because of my high public profile, my enjoyment of talking to new people and my keen desire to spread the word and change the world (!), I am a reasonable figurehead for the organisation. I also think that I make a good media spokesman, largely because I stammer openly and yet I am confident. This confuses some people and makes them question their assumptions about why we stammer.
The challenges the BSA, you and I face are all to do with educating people about stammering, overcoming the misconceptions, fighting the deep-seated prejudice, getting others on-side and yet, despite this terrible struggle (which will go on for a good 30 more years) managing to stay happy and enthusiastic and ready for the next challenge.
Nevertheless, when I look at all the things I have done, I’m not satisfied, because we have not made enough progress. But, of course, my role as Chair, is not to do it all myself, but to encourage others to get involved and to speak out. If we had a thousand more people doing the kinds of things I have done, that might make a difference.
So I’m a bit concerned that most of these questions seem to be about me. I’d much prefer to talk about what I have done. I don’t want people to read this interview and go away thinking about me, I want them to think about what they could do themselves.
So this is a list of some of the things I have done:
2003 Took over BSA campaign, which had been initiated by Rachel Albert, to encourage Rotary Clubs to invite speakers to talk about stammering.
2005 Represented BSA at European Parliament reception for declaration on stammering. See http://www.stammering.org/news_europarl05.html
2007 'Stammering is no joke' media campaign, which started with a video, suggested by my elder son, which was featured by the Guardian and then picked up by the BBC and 30 other news media in the UK and abroad. There were also interviews on BBC Radio 4 PM and BBC Radio London. At the peak of the campaign, hits on the BSA website rose from around 1,500 a day to 3,700. A worldwide campaign against YouTube was then developed, featuring an online petition. See http://www.stammering.org/nojokearticle.html
2007 Recorded several more videos, which, together, have now been watched by over 135,000 people, one of which is still the most watched educational stammering video on YouTube. Most of the viewers have been non-stammerers. See http://www.youtube.com/speakingout2
2008 BSA campaign against misleading treatment claims, working with the Advertising Standards Authority. As a result, claims made by treatment providers in the UK to ‘cure’ stammering have been virtually wiped out. See http://www.stammering.org/claims.html
2008 Political campaign to support case for Early Intervention, including the involvement of three Members of Parliament and setting up an Early Day motion in the House of Commons.
2008 Consumer PR campaign to support case for Early Intervention, working with Phil Hall Media.
2009 Following a refusal to allow me extra time to speak at a local housing appeal, changed the Royal Borough of Kingston's, and other councils', policy towards people with Speech, Language and Communication needs. See attachment.
2009 Participated in the Speaker's Conference, looking into the under-representation of various groups, including stammerers, in Parliament. See http://www.stammering.org/speakersconf.html
2009 Set up BSA reception at 10 Downing Street. See http://www.stammering.org/number10.html
2010 Initiated research into relationship between stammering, suicide and other conditions.
2010 Set up exclusive interview for BSA with Colin Firth, to discuss stammering and The King's Speech. See http://www.stammering.org/colinfirth.html
2011 'The King's Speech' media campaign – thanks to an initial introduction to BBC Radio by BSA Patron, Jon Smith, made two appearances on BBC Breakfast TV, a BBC Radio 5 live Breakfast interview, a one hour 5 live stammering phone-in, followed by several local BBC radio interviews and a World Service interview; on day of Oscar results, BBC Radio 5 interview, linking up live with Tom Hooper. See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W1ZR8S1Y5Y0
My term as Chair of the BSA started in September 2009 and will end in September, 2012. Many of the things I have done were therefore begun well before I became Chair.
It’s difficult to assess which has been the most useful. All will have had some small, drip-feed effect. But I think the ‘No joke’ campaign helped to change attitudes towards stammering, particularly on YouTube, by reducing the amount of laughing at us, and, importantly, it has encouraged more stammerers to speak out, using videos. But the campaign against misleading treatment claims has probably been the most successful, because it has clearly stopped those misleading claims. These claims not only gave false hope to those who stammer, but also gave people who don't stammer the false impression that stammering can easily be rectified.
Now, I don’t want people to look at this list, then sit back and praise me, saying I’m doing a great job. What I have done so far has hardly scratched the surface. But at least it has shown what is possible. Now I want everyone who stammers to start thinking about what you could do.
We have many pws complain that if I didn’t stutter, then I would be doing this or that! What’s your take on this?
Try it anyway.
What kind of difficulties you still face in your day to day life bcoz of your stuttering?
About the same as everyone else who stammers. But I must say that those difficulties are substantially reduced if you tell people, up front, that you stammer. Don’t apologise for it, just say that you stammer, so you can’t always control your speech, but it’s good to talk to you. This is particularly useful on the phone, where the person at the other end is often left wondering what’s going on and why things have suddenly gone silent.
They should not feel that they can interrupt you. Interrupting a stammerer is like pushing someone with a physical disability out of the way.
The severity of your stammering will usually be affected by your psychological reaction to your stammer and the circumstances in which you are speaking. There is nothing amazing in this: look, for example, how many top sports people now consult sports psychologists in order to make sure that their performances are not affected too much by the stresses and strains of top class competition. But the vital point that we need to make is that the root cause of stammering is neurological, not psychological: we have abnormal neural pathways which cause dysfluencies. So your stammering may be exacerbated by stress or nervousness, but it is not caused by it. Dr Tom Weidig of the Stuttering Brain came up with a useful analogy, which is that, for most people, speaking is like driving along a big motorway, so the traffic rolls along very well nearly all of the time. But for people who stammer, speaking is like driving along a smaller, weaker road - so, if there is too much traffic, if they are travelling too fast or if there is some threat or danger, then accidents and hold-ups are much more likely.
We must not allow ourselves to feel that our failure to control our speech is shameful. Unless we stop feeling shame, we will never achieve any kind of Stammering Respect.
Your take on THE KING’s SPEECH?
It did great things for awareness of stammering, whist it was in the news, and will also have some lasting effects. It gave us, and other people, ‘permission’ to talk about stammering. We have heard of stammerers who have sat in offices with other people for years and never talked about stammering – but suddenly it was OK.
But I fear that the film did not do much to improve the understanding of stammering. Those people, probably a large majority of people, who thought that stammering was caused by bad parenting or trauma, is largely a psychological weakness and that it can be cured quite easily, will not have had their minds changed.
Name a pws who inspires you the most?
I admire all stammerers who stammer significantly but get on with their lives, nonetheless. I particularly admire those with severe stammers who take this attitude. And I admire even more those who have significant stammers but choose to talk to non-stammerers in order to educate them about our condition and to change things. We have several people in the UK, who I know well, who are in this last category. And, recently, I have been particularly impressed by a guy in the States called Philip Garber – see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sfLHojgVYtk
10 years down the line, what do you think would be the ideal world for people who stutter?
Whenever and wherever we stammer, the person to whom we are talking will recognise that we stammer and understand that we are normal people who just can’t always control our speech.
What steps can a pws take himself/herself to make this world a better place for people who stutter?
Learn about stammering, and why we do it, be open about it and take every opportunity to educate others.
Any last words for pws around the globe?Good luck, I know it won’t be easy!