Aren’t all of us different?

September 11, 2008 at 8:03 pm 10 comments

Yesterday evening I was watching The First Blast on Dawn News while working on an article I had promised I would submit to Reba Shahid, Editor of Spider Magazine – yup multi-tasking at its best 😉

Sonia Rahman and Amina Ali were interviewing a bright young woman on TFB who had set up The Stammering Association about 10 months earlier, after having decided that she just had to take control of her life.  She was fed up of having no confidence and being unemployed.

I find stories of this kind truly inspiring but this time it was something in particular that grabbed my attention. The young guest on the show said she had completed her Masters in Computer Science from the UK and had then returned to Pakistan only to find that she was unable to get a job for 16 months. She couldn’t get past the interview because of her speech disorder.

I wasn’t clear whether she wasn’t able to get a job because she couldn’t communicate easily with the person who phoned to set it up or was it that companies didn’t shortlist her because of her speech defect? If it was the latter, I will be very disappointed. For certain jobs good communication skills are certainly essential but for fresh programmers, isn’t the ability to work with colleagues and team leads sufficient? I would have thought it would be her analytical and coding skills that they would be looking at.

Since November she has obviously gained a lot of confidence because she was able to have a discourse on television with very little trouble. Most of us who don’t stammer would have started to stammer out of fear of being on screen. She did a good job pointing out what the issues are – the lack of sensitivity mainly – like mimicking a person who stammers, making fun of them, completing sentences for them because of impatience, making faces, feeling sorry for them, thinking of them as handicapped.

The First Blast team followed this up by bringing on two kids who stammer – a young woman with a CS degree who is presently employed at Sidat Hyder and apparently very happy there, and a young man who is studying CS at Szabist. Both of them talked about lack of confidence that initially kept them from doing the things they wanted to.  These two young people seem to be well on their way to achieving their potential due to the support they received from The Stammering  Association and the encouragement they got from their parents, who told them that nothing was impossible if they would only reach out and make the effort.

I think it is great that the team from The First Blast is talking about these things. As Sonia pointed out when talking to her guests, sometimes we do things with good intentions, believing that we are providing assistance – like finishing sentences for others, when in fact it is one of the things that irritates people with speech defects the most. So much to learn, so little time.

Biases, prejudice, making fun of those who are different from us are all weaknesses in our own character that each of us needs to address. And when we do, it will turn us into much better human beings.

Entry filed under: Posts.

Do they realize how dangerous it is? Keep ’em coming Steve!

10 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Arsalaan Haleem  |  September 11, 2008 at 9:47 pm

    An excellent post, Jehan Ara. Though, I usually speak better when speaking at a slower pace but when excited, I start to stammer a lot. And, I have noticed that a lot of people do that too- ie, stammering while speaking at a faster pace.

    According to my mother, who isn’t a psychologist, just good at observing, that if those who stammer due to nervousness, should try practicing their speech at front of mirrors in the privacy of closed rooms, as if they are talking to anohter person. This way it will help them (him/her) to control their stammering.

    Just my two paisas worth!

  • 2. Sidhusaaheb  |  September 11, 2008 at 9:51 pm

    ‘Good communication skills’ have become such a holy grail, especially in the sub-continent, that even if a rocket-scientist were to be hired that would be top-most quality being looked for by those responsible for hiring for the position, regardless of the level of professional competence or the lack of it, of any of the candidates.

    As to the kind of bloopers that those with ‘good communication skills’ but without much competence can come up with, I have made an attempt towards providing some examples at .

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  • 4. Talha Izhar  |  September 12, 2008 at 12:42 am

    Very nice post and hats off to the TFB team for coming up with such an issue and discussing it in length to help others who suffer due to stammering.

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  • 6. FS  |  September 13, 2008 at 9:59 am

    A masters in computer science – any way I can get her resume?

  • 7. Vic  |  September 13, 2008 at 2:09 pm

    @Jehan: I think the fact that she completed her Master’s in Computer Science, but still has major difficulties coping with an interview (assuming she got that far, and especially if she didn’t) is a sad commentary on the kind of skills focus that has overtaken education as the objective in Universities.

    For countries in ’emerging’ economies, this should be a clarion call, not to ape the limited worldview that has brought higher education in Western countries to this parlous state. IT or Finance, or whatever, may be the fashion of the moment, but that is no excuse not to insist on offering students an all-round background for completion of a degree.

    In India, we see higher education rapidly becoming a business, with skills impartment being the naked objective. To meet some of their unipolar graduates can be a very horrifying, albeit saddening, experience.

    What a shame that this girl did not get a fair chance to pick up on interview handling, telephonic or face-to-face, in University. That would have allowed the doubtless overworked ‘first-contact’ staffers to get past her interpersonal difficulties, and focus on the skills they doubtless were supposed to hire.

    But even through this gloom has come a ray of light – she has overcome her shyness and begun a self-help group that will not only benefit her, but hundreds of other such people. Hats off to her perseverance!

    And I hope she fully intends to use ICT to get her message and methods across to anyone who needs it, no matter where they are.

  • 8. Jehan  |  September 13, 2008 at 5:49 pm

    @Arsalan, good advice.

    @Fawzia, I have asked Dawn News to connect me with her because I am sure companies would be interested in talking with her.

    @Sidhusaaheb, great post. You are absolutely right. In addition to communication skills, we have noticed that several companies insist on hiring MBAs for very simple jobs that actually don’t require such a degree. Then they complain of increasing costs. If they could recruit smartly, there would be a larger pool to choose from.

    @Vic, yes I am afraid many education institutions miss out on a well-rounded education. Skills can be taught at a technical institute. A university education should actually concentrate on teaching a person how to learn, teaching them analytical skills, and giving kids the foundation they need. This young woman’s perserverance has got her this far. I don’t think we have to worry about her extending her message through the use of ICT to a larger number of people who can benefit from her experience.

  • 9. tabinda arzoo  |  September 13, 2008 at 10:42 pm

    I just came across your blog and I’m jumping with glee that people have found the TFB show about stammerers useful. I hope people get more awareness about this issue because it is not a handicap! I hope that other stammerers have connected with us. And I hope this will help them to step up for themselves and stop holding back in speaking with people. Kudos to Julia for establishing this association for the stammerers by the stammerers. I hope the attitude of Pakistanis change and I hope that they see us just like any other individual who has weaknesses, ours is just a bit obvious 🙂

  • 10. Jehan  |  September 14, 2008 at 7:33 am

    Tabinda, it is people like Julia, Ammar and you who deserve to be congratulated for coming on the show and talking about the issues. By reaching out you have probably encouraged others with speech disorders to make the effort to do something about it. In addition, you have shown the rest of us that sometimes our best intentions result in causing more harm than good. All of us are different – with strengths and weaknesses that define us so it is strange that we don’t see that.


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