This is the time to manifest what one believes, to not only “talk the talk” but “walk the walk”. This is the day to live the revelation that tells what life is all about and what your life means. If you look up the word “humanitarian” in the dictionary, you will find several different ways to explain that a humanitarian is someone who cares and then puts that caring into action. Surely, though, this is not just the duty of the humanitarian. Isn’t it really what we all are put here to do?
“The thinking man must oppose all cruel customs, no matter how deeply rooted in tradition and surrounded by a halo. When we have a choice, we must avoid bringing torment and injury into the life of another, even the lowliest creature; but to do so is to renounce our manhood and shoulder a guilt which nothing justifies.” Albert Schweitzer was not talking being a humanitarian when he made this statement but it certainly fits with our topic for this series.
I hope through these next thirty-plus posts to give you some ideas about how you can be a humanitarian in your own place, using your own skills and time. I can promise you two things: You are someone who can make a difference and no, it will not always be easy nor popular. Yesterday I left a meeting because a song that was going to be sung contained a derogatory term, a word of discrimination that I felt I could support. My leaving attracted no attention but it made a statement. I did not want to leave. It was a great meeting with really great people but…I could not contribute to the discrimination of a group of people either. I took a stand.
That’s the most important thing a humanitarian does. They take a stand for their cause. They give a voice to their cause. We often overlook the power of speech. Ask someone who has difficulty with speaking and you will suddenly realize how important it is. For the six million to ten million in the United States alone with speech impediments, life is not easy. They are sixty-one percent more likely to be bullied and eighty-two percent more likely to be unemployed, despite their talents, intellect, and skills.
Four years ago this past October marked the anniversary of the death of a charming seventeen-year-old young man. Attractive with a great personality, it seemed like his future was bright with potential. For James, reality was much different that the outward appearances. He was bullied and lived in fear of being asked questions by his teachers, questions that would require an oral response aloud in class. His online persona was delightful but his in-person persona was shy and reticent. Teased and bullied whenever he spoke, James preferred to let his computer do his talking. You see, James was a stutterer. The world saw only that one simple characteristic and heard only the hesitated speech, not the beautiful thoughts. On a fall day in Virginia, James ended the abuse and took his own life.
Malcolm Fraser would have understood James’ pain. He had lived that same pain, that same fear, that same grief. In 1947, Fraser was a successful businessman in spite of also being a stutterer. He endowed and established the Stuttering Foundation which offers assistance and guidance to those who stutter and also researches the causes.
For those who have been the chance to make their voice heard, even if it is not fluid speech, the results are usually quite successful. Four months before James’ death, a gala was held in New York City to introduce a film entitled “Stuttering and the Big Cats’. Its producer, director, writer, and featured human was Dr. Alan Rabinowitz, president and CEO of the New-York based nonprofit Panthera.
“Alan’s courage is particularly inspiring to young people whose career paths have yet to be decided and for whom stuttering often seems an insurmountable obstacle. Through hard work, perseverance and dedication to his true passions, Alan never let stuttering hold him back from his quest to help endangered animals,” said Jane Fraser, president of the Stuttering Foundation. “We are proud to make this video available and hope that every young person who stutters has an opportunity to hear Alan’s story.”
Panthera was founded in 2006 and is a leading organization devoted to the conservation of big cats. “I recall vividly as a child staring at a jaguar as he paced in his cage at the zoo,” said Alan Rabinowitz, president and CEO of Panthera. “He was trapped, seeking a way out of a dark world, something I related to strongly at the time. And I knew then that when I found my voice, I would use it for him, for saving big cats around the world. My love for wildlife and the urgency needed to save the big cats helped me overcome stuttering. This life-long quest has resulted in Panthera – which is now my platform for speaking loudly for, and working to save, some of the planets greatest species.”
Both Malcolm Fraser and Dr. Alan Rabinowitz are humanitarians who have found their voice. My small act of rebellion yesterday in standing up for those who suffer from such issues may have seemed inconsequential but if we all stood up and used our voices to stop bullying and discrimination, we could accomplish miracles.
I understand the pain the young James felt. I also stutter. I, however, also talk. My speech may not be perfect but then…who among us is perfect? We all have an obligation to our planet and neighbors to be the best representation of ourselves we can be. For some that might mean adopting healthier habits; for others, stop being afraid of people who seem different.
History is full of successful people that stutter just as it has successful people who were not beauty queens nor Rhodes scholars nor professional athletes. We all have our skills and our “not so good at that” areas. Today let someone tell you something. Give them the respect you yourself would wish to have and if they stutter, use those few extra seconds it takes them to talk to really listen. Then use your voice to make the world a better place.