Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Canvassing with a stammer

When I go canvassing round Cambridge, when I talk to someone on the doorstep, the first thing they usually notice is that I have a stammer (also called a stutter). Basically, I can have problems articulating words, which in my case usually manifest at the start of words or sentances.

If you've seen the film The King's Speech, that's a very good portrayal of what a stammer is. Stammering is generally considered to be a neurological condition, although the causes are unknown, and it affects people in different ways and to different severities. It usually starts in early childhood, during initial speech development, and can cause someone to repeat certain syllables, or to not be able to say anything at all. It has no effect on thought patterns or intelligence, only on the neurological functions needed to speak. In my cause, it's relatively minor - it doesn't affect my day-to-day speech too much, although it can be accentuated in certain situations, or when I'm stressed or nervous. There's no outright cure, although there are some ways to lessen the impact.

The best way I can describe what it feels like to me is that my brain moves faster than my mouth - I know exactly what I want to say, but my mouth and facial muscles don't move fast enough, and so they lock up - and I can't say anything. It's mostly just annoying, but it can get really frustrating, especially when there's someone who is standing there, wondering why I knocked on their door just to gawp at them like a fish! There are a few strategies I use to help - running words together, avoiding words starting with certain syllables - but how much it affects me on a particular day can vary hugely, depending on how I'm feeling, what's happened that day, how busy I am, and many other things.

I'm naturally quite an introverted chap (my stammer probably has something to do with that), so speaking to people on the doorstep doesn't come naturally to me - so I tend to stammer more when canvassing than in day-to-day life. But, after all, someone has to do it, and I want to make a difference to my area - to actually listen to people who aren't normally listened to. So I talk to people, and try to solve problems people are having, and try to make my community just that bit better.

And if you want to get involved in your local community, you want to go speak to people, but you're worried about canvassing - don't be. It's really not that bad. The vast majority of people are very friendly; the worst you'll get is someone saying 'Now's not a good time' and they shut the door again. In over 3 years of canvassing with a stammer, the number of times people have sweared at me or reacted angrily (which really doesn't help my stammer by the way) I can count on my fingers. If I can do it with a mild-to-moderate stammer, so can you!

So if I come to your doorstep, and it's a particularly bad day for my stammer - maybe someone told me to 'Get on with it!' a few doors down - thank you for your patience. I know exactly what I want to say, I will get there in the end, there's not much you or anyone can do to help at that moment, but I'll get there. And I'll listen to you, and hopefully I can help you instead.

No comments:

Post a Comment