What should be vs. what is

creative commons image by linniekin on flickr

standing on both sides

This is something I’ve talked a little bit about before, but I’m wanting to talk about it again, a bit more broadly. When I write, there are a number of lines I try to straddle, one of them being between what should be and what is. These can be two very different areas, and it’s really important to me to acknowledge and validate them both, though it probably sometimes comes out a bit awkwardly.

It actually came to mind over a very different topic. I was reading some forums and one thread was discussing clothes for teenage girls, and how to teach teenage girls about the social consequences of dressing certain ways. It was full of practicality and was, entirely, a discussion about navigating the world as it is. Yet as I was reading I got more and more twitchy, hoping for someone to say, however briefly, that the world SHOULDN’T be like that. That yes, we live in a world where people will judge you by what you wear and wearing the “wrong” thing can lead to social judgement (and worse), but the world shouldn’t be like that. And when I thought about it, I realized I get twitchy when it’s the other way as well. When people are talking about what should be, and we should make our choices based on what should be as a way of changing the world, with no acknowledgement of how the world IS, and that maybe those “should” choices are, in fact, a privilege.

I highly value both sides of this. I think they are both extremely important, and that it is harmful to focus on one to the exclusion of the other.

I focus a lot on what should be. I want the world to be better than it is (for everyone, though I’m focusing on autism, mental illness, and disability in particular), so I write about how I want things to be, and how I don’t like the way many things actually are. I write about how I wish we didn’t have to hide ourselves or spend so much energy blending in that we don’t have any energy left for anything else. It’s how I want things to be.

But I don’t want to be harmful. I don’t want to focus on what should be to the exclusion of what is, so I really try to include at least a few lines acknowledging and validating what is, and the choices people will make because not everyone is so privileged as to be able to make all their choices around what should be.

This also is closely related to the fact that I am a very strong believer in multiple right answers. That it isn’t about finding “The” answer, but about finding the answer that’s right for you, along with pushing to make the world more accepting of answers that I wish were easier to pick. So, for instance, stimming. Flapping and spinning in the grocery store should not be bad. As long as I’m not hurting anyone, it should be ok for me to stim if I need to in order to deal with the lights or smells or crowds. However, the world is not what it should be. Maybe I feel strong enough to deal with stares or glares. Maybe I don’t have a dire need for food so I can handle it if a manager kicks me out because my disability was showing. Or, maybe I don’t. Maybe I’m vulnerable and just can’t deal with that kind of thing. Maybe I really need what the store is selling. Maybe the consequences would be too great for me to handle.

Everyone needs to make their own choices based on how much cope they have left, how much they can handle, and how much they want to help change the world at any given moment.

Which is not to say that there aren’t wrong answers. Of course there are wrong answers. Some of them include kicking people out of stores because they are autistic. Or whispering “what’s wrong with her?” behind your hand (always bad, but especially bad when done within earshot of who you’re talking about). Or saying “quiet hands!” because I’m twitching. Those answers are entirely wrong. But when it comes to things like choosing whether or not to let myself stim in public in a way that people will notice – either answer I choose is right. People need to make their own decisions.

So I try my best to straddle that line. I write about what I want the world to be like and I do my best to live it, while recognizing and validating that it isn’t always like that, and we can’t always make those kinds of choices. I certainly can’t all the time.

1 Comment

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One response to “What should be vs. what is

  1. This is a great post. I tend to get too caught up in the “should” to acknowledge and validate the “is” sometimes. Social injustice really upsets me. But I really shouldn’t (ha!) lose sight of who the victims are.