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3 Lessons You Can Learn From My Stutter

3 Lessons You Can Learn From My Stutter

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I invite you all to entertain the following scenario: You know exactly what you have to say, your listener is waiting patiently to hear you speak, but you simply cannot … Get. The. Words. Out.

As someone with a severe stutter, this is what I face every waking moment of every day. It is a battle I take pride in. It is an obstacle that has taught me things about myself I would otherwise never have discovered. Much of what I have to share with the world would be unknown to me if I had been born a smooth and fluid speaker.

There are three distinct traits that stuttering has taught me, traits that I feel would add value to anyone’s life, stutterer or not. Let me share them with you, along with a couple of lessons gleaned from the Torah’s description of holy figures who portray some of these characteristics.

Lesson 1: Listening

Stuttering has given me the great ability to listen to the person with whom I am conversing. I know exactly how it feels to be speaking to someone who is looking directly at me, their attention aimed at me, and yet they are not listening; their minds are somewhere else. People get distracted by my speech, or lack of it. Whether they are too disturbed by my stutter or by anticipating the word that won’t come out (“helping me” by saying it), they’re not fully present to me and what I have to say. Interruptions and loss of eye contact ensue. The conversation has been disrupted.

In order to be a good listener, one has to listen unequivocally.

Here are some pointers:

  • Maintain eye contact.
  • Do not interrupt or try to anticipate the speaker’s coming words, even if you think it will help them.
  • Just be there and be present, listening to the message the speaker is trying to convey. When you listen without distraction, you can really connect to what the speaker is trying to communicate.
  • Respond only once you see that the speaker has finished

There you have it: the gist of being a good listener.

When Moses was pasturing the flock of his father-in-law, Yitro, G‑d appeared to him in a burning bush and called to him, saying, “Moses, Moses!” Moses replied, “Here I am.” G‑d then said, “Do not draw near here. Take your shoes off your feet, because the place upon which you stand is holy soil.”

One famous commentator explains that G‑d was telling Moses to remove all preconceived notions, all inner hindrances to the Divine light that was present. Moses had to remove his own sense of self, and be fully present for the revelation that G‑d was showing him.

Lesson 2: Resilience

Being hung up on while making a call, being made fun of for speaking in an unfamiliar way, or having a friend speak on my behalf are all par for the course for stutterers. All this has naturally had an effect on me. To be able to withstand these challenges and not let them define you takes great will and energy. To keep at it, to continue engaging with the world, speaking to anyone you want to, stutter or not, builds inner strength that is deep and lasting.

There are situations in life that overwhelm all of us. There are times when we are intimidated and made to doubt our ability to accomplish a goal, big or small. We need to remember that we can do whatever we put our mind to, and that people respect others who overcome their challenges. To be mindful of our hardships, and despite it all to continue on our path, is what will lead to great things.

Lesson 3: Bring out the best in others

Stuttering has made me someone unique. When I converse with someone, the listener is given the opportunity to pay closer attention to me and my message, and to have the patience to allow me to get the words out. When asked their name, not many people take 30 seconds to get out that one seemingly simple word. When you meet me and hear my name (after a struggle), you’ll remember the name Shalom Goodman, because you don’t want to ask it again and be on the receiving end of another uncomfortable 30 seconds of silence while I try to get my name out. Secondly, and more importantly, one doesn’t forget an experience like that.

I work at not leading with my speech challenge. Regardless, it makes me memorable. But I hope it is the way I approach my challenge that is the most memorable.

I am inspired by Joseph. He had a life full of hardship, from having his brothers sell him as a slave, to being wrongfully accused and incarcerated in Egypt. And through it all, he kept his uniqueness, shared his talents and uplifted those around him. I believe that the fact that he was able to rise to become the viceroy of Egypt was precisely because he was able to learn from his hardships and use them to his advantage. They gave him the gift of resilience, the fortitude to keep his faith and overcome any obstacle that came his way.

All of us have qualities that are distinct. And when you find those, when you’re able to convey your inner unique self, sharing things that may be raw or beyond the surface, you and that experience become memorable to others, and you can forge deep and meaningful relationships.

Each of us has our struggles, our stutters in life, those things that we think impede our ability to reach greater heights. The goal is to remember that strength and beauty are in the struggle, in overcoming hardships and in being open to people about your struggle.

When I meet someone, I try telling them, “I’ve got a stutter, would you mind if I use a technique to help myself speak more smoothly.” And with those few words, I show them that I have something I’m working on, and that they can help me work on it too. Try that for yourself. Put the challenge up front so that you can put it aside from the start. Be like Moses, leaving the preconceived notions at the door, and be resilient like Joseph, continuing to pull through.

I hope this story of my struggle and the strength it has given me can add value to your life as well. We are in this journey of life together. With resilience, kindness and an honest ear, we can add light to our lives and the lives of those around us every day.

Shalom Goodman received his rabbinic ordination from the Mayanot Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem. He currently resides in Chicago and has a passion for writing.
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Anonymous August 15, 2017

Dear Shalom Goodman, I was very touched by your experiences with stuttering. I am Christian and happened to come across your article while looking up other information, a happy accident. I congratulate you on your positive approach to a difficult challenge. I also empathize with you because many decades of my life were plagued by stuttering and the resulting embarrassment of being different, as if I were an alien from another planet. I hated the times people would not look at me when the problem showed itself or when someone filled in a word. As I grew older and got more experience with speaking in public and on the theatrical stage, my breath control and maybe confidence improved, resulting in what I consider fluency most of the time. But, on occasion, I do revert to incidences of non-fluency. Am still very uncomfortable during those times but your article has given me a kind of hope on how to deal with those incidences and, as you wisely say, not let them define you. Thank you Reply

Anonymous August 9, 2017

Wonderful Advice! Rabbi Goodman,

Thank you for sharing your inspiring story regarding stuttering. Your suggestions are very insightful. We live in a society that is so fast-paced and it is rather difficult for some to grasp that for some there may be a delay in speech aside from tone of voice, accent, and etc. I have also stuttered my entire life and have always found it very helpful to directly (indirectly) bring awareness to the topic. This puts you at ease as well as those you are communicating with and allows you to break through any barriers to living a full life that stem from stuttering. It isn't the stuttering itself that is a barrier or holds one back, but the stigma, rejection, and ridicule faced (or perceived) that presses upon the stutterer. It is important that we don't allow stuttering to define us as individuals put on this earth to live life by GD. Thanks again for this article; Rabbi! Reply

Anonymous August 9, 2017

Wonderful Advice Rabbi Goodman,

Thank you for sharing your inspiring story regarding stuttering. Your suggestions are very insightful. We live in a society that is so fast-paced and it is rather difficult for some to grasp that for some there may be a delay in speech aside from tone of voice, accent, and etc. I have also stuttered my entire life and have always found it very helpful to directly (indirectly) bring awareness to the topic. This puts you at ease as well as those you are communicating with and allows you to break through any barriers to living a full life that stem from stuttering. It isn't the stuttering itself that is a barrier or holds one back, but the stigma, rejection, and ridicule faced (or perceived) that presses upon the stutterer. It is important that we don't allow stuttering to define us as individuals put on this earth to live life by GD. Thanks again for this article; Rabbi! Reply

Shelley Vancouver, Canada August 1, 2017

I'm moved and inspired by you. I agree that we grow stronger bacause of our challenges, and they can be the building blocks for success, both personally and as a Jewish people. Thank you for your warmth and candor. Kol ha kavod! Reply

Peter Young Dartmouth July 31, 2017

You are well named, Shalom! Your words (like your strength of character) invite and point the way through the beautiful gate of Jerusalem, a citadel and community that is at unity in itself (psm 122). Thank you for the encouragement Reply

larry sifen virginia beach va July 30, 2017

great article with good lessons and suggestions. my apologies if the following information sounds intrusive as the article made no requests for information. 27 years ago I watched my 7 year old son and many others stop stuttering ( some who could barely talk) with a program that I only tried because it was local. since I drove my son to the program I was with the group before they started and was stunned at the change and success I was seeing in person.

Eastern Virginia Medical School Fluency Program Norfolk va Reply

Yehuda Raskas Saint Louis July 30, 2017

I am reminded of a story of the Steipler Gaon. It was said that when he went to meet his kalla [bride] (the sister of the Chazon Ish) that she remarked how he was unable to hear. (This was due to an incident that occurred in which he was mikadesh shaim shamayim.). The Chazon replied to her that he may not be able to hear you but the whole world was going to hear about him. Shalom, you may have difficulty speaking but there are a lot more people listening then you realize. Reply

Beth NYC July 30, 2017

Your article is so timely! It is also beautifully written. Thank you!! Reply

Paul Goldstein Vindenes, Norway July 29, 2017

Mazel Tov! Shalom, Rabbi Goodman. I commend you on a very insightful article! I'm also one who severely stutters, and in addition I have a speech pathology background. I can relate on a personal level to all your points, and completely agree with everything you've written. You've expressed the essence of our daily challenges most admirably!
Mazel Tov on your ordination, and for meeting the challenges of stuttering with such bravery and success! Reply

Anonymous nyc July 29, 2017

Amazing. Thank you. So, inspired.
Lamese Reply

Chani Upstate NY July 28, 2017

My son stutters slightly, and he sent me the article to share with his siblings! Guess he related to it. Thank you. Reply

Cynthia Guelph, ON July 28, 2017

Toda Raba, Thank you so much for those uplifting words of encouragement. I too have a stutter except it is in my brain where it is difficult to think of the words I want to say and usually my brain remains empty in conversations. I've struggled with this for the past 6 years and at times feel like I'm losing the battle. Reply

Anna ARLINGTON July 28, 2017

Working with special needs children, I have learned a lot through. I enjoyed the connection made through Moses and Joseph. Great article Reply

Jonas Pikesville, MD July 28, 2017

I had problems speaking as a child. Everyone called it stammering. They claimed I was thinking too fast for my mouth to keep up. As an adult I was mostly able to overcome this, but several years ago after a stroke I had to completely relearn how to talk and every so often some of that old stammering problem comes back.

Even Moses had a speach impediment and he was the greatest of us all. Reply

attilio attilius Italy July 28, 2017

Dear Rabbi, more or less we are all as stuttering as you say very well. But we often prefer to ignore it. Thank you Reply

Richard Boca Raton July 27, 2017

I was a stammer and stutter victim until my senior year in High School when a MD worked with me with hypnosis. I could not telephone, but could speak sometimes without affliction. I was worst than the King in The Kings Speech. My parents tried speech therapists year after year with almost no affect. I would guess that after my 'awaking' that the possible cause is tension from early childhood. The King's problem was caused by his father. Mine was found out later that I will NOT share. Singing works, see Mel Tillis. It was the worst years of my life.Every time I hear someone with the problem I talk about what I did.Humming before speaking helps a lot Reply

Pete WA July 27, 2017

I used to stutter when I was a child. Then when I started to talk more coherently I talked very fast. I wanted to get my words out but there was a slow connection beteween the thoughts and the speech.

I think Moses meant that he was a babbler -- that is, confused and intermingled with the wrong group. And the removal of the shoes would represent that he longer had any choice, and could only walk according to a path on which he would be directed.

A quick read through the Bible and you can see Moses stuttering, repeating, trying to say somethying but not quite there, stammering ... until he gets to Deuteronomy where it appears the stutterer has achieved eloquence in exegesis. Reply

Anonymous July 27, 2017

Rabbi Goodman, you are very brave. I stuttered when I was a child. No I did not "out grow" it. Over the years I have learned how to manage it. Every word I say I have gone through a process to help it come out smooth. Everything you said is so true. Thank you for sharing your gift in teaching us how be better listeners. You graciously explained the best way to listen to those of us who stutter. When someone interrupts me, I feel like I have to start all over again. Sometime I do. Sometimes I don't. Reply

RD bklyn July 27, 2017

technique Thank you, Rabbi Goodman.
You refer to "a technique" -- would you mind telling us what the technique is? Reply

Naomi Baltimore July 27, 2017

Shalom, we all can learn from you. What a marvelous and clear writer you are! The lessons you share are invaluable!
Hatzlacha----Naomi Reply