Millions of Micro-Moments of Bravery with Joze Piranian, Stutterer, TEDx Speaker and Stand-Up Comedian

Jennifer Brown | |

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This episode, originally recorded as a DEI call, features an interview with Joze Piranian, Global TEDx Speaker and a lifelong stutterer turned transformational speaker on inclusion and resilience. Joze also shared information about stuttering, and revealed what he has learned from his own journey.

Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:

Jose: Well, when the elections were happening and videos of Biden would emerge on the internet, I would see so many comments from people assuming that he was mentally unfed or that he had been dealing with dementia. I still remember when that was happening, I had to think, do I want to play the role of an advocate and actually speak out on this topic and call out all of these behaviors that were not okay.

Doug: Everyone has a diversity story. Even those you don’t expect. Welcome to the Will to Change with Jennifer Brown. Get ready to hear from leading CEOs, bestselling authors and entrepreneurs, as we uncover their true stories of diversity and inclusion. And now here’s your host, Jennifer Brown.

Doug: Hello, and welcome back to the Will to Change. This is done for us, of course, I’m here with Jennifer Brown. And the episode that you’re about to hear today was originally recorded as another DEI community call. This one was with [Jose Bahrain 00:01:35]. Let me say a little bit about him. He’s amazing guests. I know you’ll really get a lot out of this. Jose Bahrain is a lifelong stutter to international speaker after avoiding speaking almost entirely for more than 25 years due to a debilitating stutter. He won the inspirational speaker of the year award in 2017 and as performed stand up comedy in three continents and three languages.

Doug: He has more than 3 million views on speech featured on Goalcast. And he has been featured on TEDx, the CBC, and Global News Canada. Jennifer, I know you found this episode and this interview really transformative. Can you talk about that experience and the millions of micro moments of bravery?

Jennifer Brown: Yeah. Isn’t that wonderful, Doug? Yeah, I mean, imagine the courage and some of the footage of Jose shows him walking up to strangers all day long with a goal of having 100 conversations or attempting to have 100 conversations, right. That being the operative word. You talk about getting comfortable being uncomfortable just epitomizes I think everything we talk about.

Jennifer Brown: And what I learned though from him is so much about the pervasiveness of those who stutter. And I just wanted to share Doug some statistics that I think are important for all of us to know. So and this was National Stuttering Week, last week, which was May 10th every year. The fact that Joe Biden has been so open about his stutter Jose referenced a lot. And in fact, there’s so many other people who experienced stuttering as well.

Jennifer Brown: But let me just share some of these statistics. So it begins in childhood, usually between the ages of two to five. It is a communication disorder involving disruptions or disfluencies in a person’s speech. It is associated with differences in the brain. There is more right hemisphere activity in adults who stutter with less activity in the left hemisphere areas, typically responsible for speech production. Stuttering is more common among males than females at a ratio of four to one. And finally 1% of the world’s population stutters, although 5% of children go through a period of developmental stuttering. And people who stutter often try to avoid speaking by trying to speak quickly by forcing through moments of stuttering or by not speaking at all. So in this episode, you see why Jose is just a light in the world.

Jennifer Brown: I mean, just the love exudes from him. People were crying on this call. People were, I think, sharing about family members who struggled with stuttering and still learning having even been related to people who do stutter and yet Jose was able to bring this, I think, as a topic to us, many of us have not considered it. And it’s just another piece of the puzzle Doug about all the different identities that of all kinds that we try to not just acknowledge at JBC and everything that we do, but really try to center voices with this kind of lived experience.

Jennifer Brown: So I was just thrilled to learn about Jose but even more so the million moments of bravery and the way that he literally pushed himself into extremely uncomfortable places after two decades of not speaking. And he made this transformation not overnight, but I wanted to quote him.

Jennifer Brown: He said, “I love the topic of turning points because it is sometimes based on the romanticized idea of transformation,.” This idea insinuates that all we need for change is one breakthrough moment when something clicks. I have not found that to be the case.

Jennifer Brown: With me it was what I call millions of micro moments of bravery when I did what I was afraid of doing again and again and again, until that relationship with fear and discomfort started to transform. So, and obviously facing this in this way has made him a super compelling speaker.

Jennifer Brown: And he also comedian because he weaves all of this together and somehow just like is able to laugh with himself, with the absurdity of certain situations. But really, I think he’s changing the world. I mean, this is no laughing matter what he’s doing because it’s powerful.

Jennifer Brown: So there actually is a movie being made about Jose. So everybody stay tuned for that, stay close to him and knowing the will to change audience Doug, as we do, I know you all will really take this on board and do some thinking about it and think about your own allyship. Think about your journey of understanding all the identities that the world may view as stigmatized, but which have created so much strength and humor and humility and inspiration and all of us. And I think this is just a perfect example of that. So Jose is also just an incredibly generous person after what we’re going to play on the Will to Change today, he actually stayed on the community call for an extra half an hour to just take questions and be with people.

Jennifer Brown: And I’ve never had anyone offered to do that before and 30 or 40 people stayed on to speak with Jose. So again, loving human being, my kind of person and there is a treat at the very end of this episode. So it’s worth it to listen all the way through, do not page forward on your app, no cheating, but there’s definitely something extremely special in the last 10 minutes or so. So please give a listen all the way through support Jose and let’s all continue our learning about all these beautiful identities that make up the mosaic of who we are.

Jennifer Brown: I wanted to just start by saying the thing I have reflecting on this week so much in meeting you and learning with you is our fast paced world, where sometimes we miss the magic and the brilliance offered by different modalities of communication.

Jennifer Brown: Those of us who take more time and our ability and our need as inclusive leaders to listen and model that inclusion for all kinds of expressions and processing, and this opportunity is profound. And as you’re going to get into Jose too, we all have a stutter. And if any of you watched, Jose’s amazing Ted Talk before this, that point really packs a punch. I mean, it really hits because it’s so much of what we talk about in DEI that we… there’s so much that is universal, that you’ll hear Jose talk about today that will really, I think hit home for us literally, and as a metaphor for what we cover, what we hold back with and what we miss when we don’t build inclusive environments around us to welcome all kinds of styles and processing and speeds.

Jennifer Brown: And so Jose is such a voice for, and such a reminder of this. And you do this in such a joyful way Jose. You make it like everything with D and I think is, can be this incredible journey of joy and discovery that we all go on together. And I feel that I’ve been on that with you in the short time that I’ve known you. So I think we can just jump on in here in a moment. Let me look at yeah, there we go. So what you’re going to hear me and Jose do today, everybody is I’m going to dip in and out of the slides I typically teach with my keynote and Jose has literally like taken a bath and all things JVC. And I was thrilled that you did that Jose, so we can kind of tag team.

Jennifer Brown: And what I’ll do is I’ll lay out a concept and then Jose will talk about like how does this concept show up for me as I identify, and then we’ll intersperse the videos if they cooperate with us that really bring these concepts to life for all of you. So that’s what we’re going to attempt to do today. So you all know covering is one of my favorite concepts from Kenji Yoshino, Christie Smith. Kenji wrote a book called Covering that I would highly recommend that the research was based on, and this was done with Deloitte.

Jennifer Brown: But this is what I think we do in anticipation of bias, in anticipation of being stereotyped. We seek the psychological safety of covering. Meaningly downplay or minimize what we imagine rightly or wrongly is going to create some negativity around how we identify.

Jennifer Brown: And this is that piece that is so exhausting, right? When we say bring our full selves to work, many of us can’t because we are struggling through what we perceive as covering demands or requirements, meaning, all of me is not going to be good for me basically. And so Jose has some thoughts and examples about this that I wanted you to share Jose, but let me go through the four A’s and then I’ll hand it off to you. So in the research, Kenji and Christie talk about those four A’s right. So the slide will come up in a moment. I know it’s probably freezing, but there’s appearance based covering, thank you. Appearance based covering, which is modifying our gestures, our speech, which we’ll talk about, our appearance, right, our gender expression.

Jennifer Brown: Always trying to think about if I express myself truthfully, what’s going to happen as a ramification about what is the risk. Affiliation, obviously I talk about parenting a lot and how we don’t talk about our wants and needs for flex arrangements or parental leave and all the stigma around that.

Jennifer Brown: So we don’t want to be affiliated with those people, right. Even though I am a part of those people. Advocacy based covering is not speaking up or challenging a joke or comment. Because at some point we realized there was a penalty to doing that so we go silent. And then association is the avoidance of being seen too much or too often with other people that identify as we do, because it’s suspicious, right. It’s suspect. So that was a turbo run through this, but Jose, let me hand over to you. I know some of these concepts really resonate with you.

Jose: Absolutely. When I first heard about this concept through you Jennifer, I realized that that’s what I had been doing my entire life, because I grew up in Lebanon with this stutter because of which I avoided speaking for more than 25 years. And when I saw the way that you defined it or that it had been defined as we play small in anticipation of the bias, I was so terrified of how the world would react to the fact that I was different that opting for silence appeared to be the only protective mechanism that made sense for me. And if we look at it through the lens of the four A’s, there are two out of those four A’s that I would say, were really prevalent on my end. The first one was appearance.

Jose: And if we look at it as auditory appearance in that sense, I really did everything that I could to cover my voice and the best way I knew how to do was by not speaking at all. And I would go for example, and ask my professors in undergrad to exempt me from every single presentation as this act of covering in anticipation of the negative reaction or feedback from the world. And the other A, that I can really relate to, is the A of advocacy.

Jose: And in fact, when do you ask, elections were happening, who are members by the way in the chat, if you remembered this let me know. When the elections were happening and videos of Biden would emerge on the internet, I would see so many comments from people assuming that he was mentally unfed or that he had been dealing with dementia. And I did remember when that was happening I had to think, do I want to play the role of an advocate and actually speak out on this topic and call out all of these behaviors that were not okay.

Jennifer Brown: You decided to use your voice and come out, if you will. And this leads us to this discussion about the iceberg. So this is another slide that some of you have seen us use here before that I teach all the time and I get stuck on it and I spend like hours on it. I feel like it’s so much.

Jennifer Brown: Everything from mental health to chronic illness, to grief and loss, to socio-economic status, to neuro-diversity to age, the waterline is what we really talk about and teach around lowering it and getting comfortable, being uncomfortable, right? So that we can change institutions that we’re a part of so that we can role model something so others can feel less alone. There’s a lot of reasons we do need to question where we set this waterline. And so Jose, I know there’s so many parallels here and actually you, so Joe Biden lowered the waterline in such a senior position.

Jennifer Brown: The fact that somebody like that was open about that went miles towards progress and miles towards, and I don’t love normalizing you all know I like the word utilize. Miles to utilizing a much more inclusive version of who a leader is and how they identify and what challenges or lived experiences they have. And Jose you showed me a different kind of water line. And we have it today and it’s the stuttering iceberg with different things under that water line. So would you take us through this? I had never seen it. And it’s so helpful.

Jose: Yeah. When, we were having a call and you mentioned the iceberg, I immediately thought about the fact that I had come across an iceberg specifically for stuttering, that had been designed in the seventies, hence the look of that photo compared to these stick and modern iceberg that we saw before. And really how this applies to stuttering is the fact that the main starter of stuttering is not the stuttering itself.

Jose: It’s all of the hidden emotions and experiences day in, day out. It’s the shame, it’s the fear of judgment. It’s the embarrassment about being different. I still remember this one time, I must have been 19 years old and I was suppose to go to a big family reunion. And I was so afraid of having to go speak and get stuck on words, and then live in that lower 90% of the iceberg that I did everything that I could to give that event.

Jose: And what I done that day is after I took a shower, I went outside with a towel on, and I spent half an hour in the wind hoping to get sick, just so that I would have a way out of that said tuition. So really the iceberg controlled my life. And it wasn’t until just a few years ago that the waterline was significantly lowered.

Jennifer Brown: So, I’m thinking about so many things when you said like literally avoiding rituals and socializing and let’s face it so much, so much relationship building happens in those things. So much information was shared. It reminds me so much of my friends, for example, who are sober and in recovery saying I’m not making up another reason why I don’t want to go to that after hours celebration I’m uncomfortable. And so if avoiding things, if we’re LGBTQ, there’s places that I think folks haven’t paused to think about who feels uncomfortable in this place. Who is opting out because of what’s under this waterline. And the true inclusive leader is constantly paying attention to this and thinking who’s not here and why, and then how can I change the venue? How can I change the format?

Jennifer Brown: How can I enable if it means more time in meetings so that people can express, how can I build a meeting agenda in that way, how can I build a meeting that works for introverts and extroverts? And how do I solicit that feedback and ideas and make sure that all of that is as inclusive as possible. So there’s this beautiful, universal design piece of what you’re talking about, Jose, which just impacts so many of us relating to our own iceberg and the discomfort, and then the avoidance.

Jennifer Brown: And then through the avoidance, the missed opportunities for people to know us and to honestly be changed by us too. And that was why your decision for advocacy and that coming out process you had, we’re going to get into that in a second was just so critical.

Jennifer Brown: And I’m sure it’s exhausting. Because when we decide to lower the water line, it means we’re kind of making a commitment to our truth and a commitment to being more publicly available as educators. And I know we all know what that feels like particularly this past year to be inundated with requests to share our stories over and over and over again.

Jennifer Brown: But you, you have made it a discipline to do that Josie, because we’re going to get into next and how you literally have been working on taking kind of a very radical approach, I think, to working on practicing what you want to practice. So, and we have another video coming up and before we do that, I wanted to give you an opportunity to, there was a piece in this inclusive leader continuum that is from the second book, everybody.

Jennifer Brown: So if you haven’t gotten a copy of how to be an inclusive leader, this is the center piece of the book. And when Jose looked at this and read the book, I know Jose you’re like, “Oh yeah, I’m traveling this my own from my own journey.” So elaborate on that and then we have another video to show everybody.

Jose: Yeah and by the way, I just read the book in the last few days, and if anyone in the audience has not, I cannot recommend it enough. It is literally like living in Jennifer’s reign for a few days. I highly recommend that experience. So before I get into that concept, if I can ask everyone in the audience, if you have ever held back due to fear, please write me in the chat.

Jennifer Brown: That’s helpful.

Jose: And this is when I typically say, I hate to break it to you folks, but in a way you all have a stutter. When you want to speak up in that meeting and yet you remain quiet that is your stutter. Why even wanting to start this new initiative and yet the fear of failure holds you back from taking that first step. That is your stutter, or if you are ever reluctant, or if the HR manager is reluctant about giving that stretch assignment to an employee with a disability challenges, that is their own stutter. And every time we succumb to our stutter, we shrink our destiny by tripping away countless possibilities.

Jose: Because that time that you did not speak up in that meeting might’ve been that day that you are going to share an idea that would soon become a best practice at your organization. And that time that you did not say hello to that individual at an event, or at a conference that might’ve been an individual who would soon become a new friend, or someone who would alter your perspective on life in such a radically transformational way. And that’s why when I look at these steps, or these phases and I think about the transition from unaware to aware if you read the book, the fourth step is embracing this comfort.

Jose: And when I get asked what was the turning point on my journey? I often find that the concept of a turning point is heavily influenced by a romanticized and Hollywood desk idea of change that implies that all we need for transformation is a single moment where something just clicks. And then we go and run under the rain as dramatic music plays in the background, I have not found that to be the case.

Jose: And for me it was literally millions of micro moments of bravery that led to a very uncomfortable, vulnerable, and yet unpredictably transformational journey. And perhaps as you were mentioning just now, Jennifer, I did do that in a very orthodox manner and maybe we can share a short clip of this exercise that I would do every week for multiple years before the pandemic, I would go to the mall or outside and I would share to myself by talking to 100 complete strangers every single week. And I have a short clip that was captured by the filmmaker who is making a movie about my journey. At the moment she approved that I share this with you all so let’s look.

Jose: Excuse me guys. Hi, I have a stutter and today I’m just challenging myself by having super quick conversations with as many people as possible as an exercise to work on my stuttering and improve my speech. I know I interrupted something that’s very divine. Huh?

Jennifer Brown: You can[inaudible 00:35:02].

Jose: Yes. Wow. [inaudible 00:35:11] Yeah. I’m Jose Bahrain. It’s really an absurd coincidence.

Jennifer Brown: Yeah. It’s [inaudible 00:35:30].

Jose: Yeah, I could tell as soon as I-

Jennifer Brown: That is really good. Very, very super nice.

Jose: I could tell right away as soon as I walked in that this isn’t the average group of people.

Jennifer Brown: And how many times did you do this Jose, and what did it feel like, you said it was transformational for you. It strikes terror into the heart, I think of a lot of us to imagine doing this with complete strangers and then the over and over and over again. So what shifted for you in doing this technique?

Jose: It was really this mindset shift. And it was a mindset shift that told me after tens of thousands of interactions that fear and action can co exist. And I think this was such a key mindset shift for me because it meant that I no longer had to wait for my fear and discomfort to go away before I started taking action. And in fact, after hundreds of stand-up comedy performances and speaking and engagements, I had realized that the fear that I had both good news and bad news about fear and the bad news was that fear never goes away. And the good news was that fear never goes away.

Jose: And if we know what that something is a constant, it is completely illogical for us to wait for it to fade away before we take the action that we know will allow us to unlock our potential. And I want to do something that I haven’t really done before. There’s a song, so when I sing, I don’t stutter at all. And there’s one song that is all about finding our voice and as Jennifer shares the points on that slide I am going to grab my guitar. Okay, here we go. (singing).

Jennifer Brown: Can we all come off mute and appreciate. That was a beautiful.-

Jose: Thank you.

Speaker 5: Amazing. [crosstalk 00:40:57].

Speaker 6: You’re amazing. Thank you. I love you.[crosstalk 00:41:03].

Jennifer Brown: Lots of sobs. Jose, thank you. You’ve made such a difference today. Gosh, I just don’t even want to use words because it just touched our heart in so many ways. That was beautiful.

Jennifer Brown: Hi, this is Jennifer. Did you know that we offer a full transcript of every podcast episode on my website over at jenniferbrownspeaks.com. You can also subscribe so that you get notified every time a new episode goes live. Head over there now to read my latest thoughts on diversity, inclusion and the future of work and discover how we can all be champions of change by bringing our collective voices together and standing up for ourselves and each other.

Doug: You’ve been listening to the Will to Change uncovering true stories of diversity and inclusion with Jennifer Brown. If you’ve enjoyed the episode, please subscribe to the podcast in iTunes. To learn more about Jennifer Brown, visit jenniferbrownspeaks.com. Thank you for listening and we’ll be back next time with a new episode.