Tag Archives: politeness

Finding the Boundaries

creative commons image by ank0ku on flickr

Explicit boundary markers are fabulous.

This is yet another hugemassive topic that goes far beyond anything I’m capable of fitting into a single blog post. So, yet again, I’m going to be going for a more general overview, with the idea that I can do more specific blog posts in the future.

In my post about politeness, I briefly listed a few areas of polite behavior, including finding and respecting people’s boundaries. As a matter of fact, most of what I listed could be considered a form of knowing/respecting boundaries, as this is a really huge deal. In some cases, it could be considered about being polite or otherwise, and in other cases it’s about a whole lot more. There are all sorts of types of boundaries.

When I first started thinking about this blog topic, I was thinking about a version of boundaries that fits rather neatly as a politeness thing – that is, knowing when to talk to people and when not to. Knowing how often to talk to or contact people. How much is too much, how much is not enough, that sort of thing. I am terrible at finding a balance on this one, and after many failures in relationships I’ve become somewhat obsessive and stressed about it all. Too little contact with a person and I find myself unable to continue to feel a connection with them. Too much contact with a person and they tend to run away. Trying to balance what I need and want with what the other person needs and wants is something I find terribly complicated and difficult, and I only occasionally bother to try. On this one, if anyone has any magical secrets on how to figure this out, I’d certainly love it hear them. ^_^

There are also other sorts of boundaries. Many of them are very serious sorts of boundaries, with serious consequences for getting them wrong. One of those areas is sexual boundaries. Interestingly, I don’t find sexual boundaries to be all that difficult to navigate. The big thing is that for it to work as easy as possible, there are two things each person needs to bring to the table.

1. a willingness to talk about where your boundaries are. It can be hard to directly talk about sexual things, especially since we have a lot of learned shame around it all, but it’s honestly fairly important to be able to do so. That said, it’s ok if it’s uncomfortable or challenging or embarrassing. It’s just important to do it.
2. Practice explicit consent. I am a huge proponent of explicit consent just in general for everyone (unless you have an established relationship and have worked out other ways to do it), but ESPECIALLY LOTS for anyone on the spectrum. Where it goes beyond “no means no” and into “yes means yes.” Do not assume that things are ok – ask first. It does not have to be terribly awkward and robotic, either. Enthusiastic consent is pretty hot. ^_^

Then there are more general boundaries. Some are fairly obvious (don’t punch people except in certain, very limited, contexts), and others are more about any given individual’s lines (like how I don’t want people to touch my upper arms). In the case of the latter, I strongly prefer (and very much appreciate) people who are willing to be explicit. I have a very hard time with non-verbal communication, and I miss boundaries all too often when they are expressed with gestures or facial expressions rather than with words. This is a difficult area for me – technically speaking, socially speaking, it’s up to me to detect where everyone’s boundaries are. Realistically speaking, while I do try very hard, sometimes I just can’t. I need words. So I tend to be more drawn to people who use words, or who are at least willing to use words with me. Which also means that when I person does use words to express a boundary, I make a point to respect it without making them work or fight for it.

Sometimes I find when I express boundaries to other people, their response is to immediately ask me why I need that boundary, or couldn’t I use this other boundary instead, etc. This both bothers me on a personal level and is a behavior that I find generally problematic, so I make a point to not do it (with the possible exception of if respecting that person’s boundary carries a risk of crossing a boundary of mine. then negotiation needs to happen). If, for whatever reason, I want more information I make a point to agree to the boundary first, and then express my desire for said information.

Overall, I find boundaries are things worth a lot of my energy and attention. I know I sometimes have trouble, but I really do care about getting it right, so I try. I try a lot. And I love it when people are explicit about their own boundaries. It’s fantastic.


Filed under issue

On Being Polite

creative commons image by smithereen11 on flickr

All up in your face!

This is a topic I’ve been meaning to write about for a long time. It also refuses to sit around patiently in the back of my mind like other blog topics, instead regularly jumping out to grab my attention. Of course, this is partly because pretty much every day I get hits on my blog from people googling about autism, aspergers, and rudeness. Clearly, this is a thing.

However, it is also a HUGE thing. The more I think about it the more I get intimidated by the prospect of trying to write about it. Politeness is a large and complicated subject matter consisting of a large variety of social dances, and I have different feelings about different ones. However, it does deserve to be written about, and I am reminding myself that it’s ok to do an overview post and go into more detail about different sorts of things in future posts.

So. The autism spectrum and what it is to be polite or rude. I think I’ll just start with the simplest (to me) area, and what first comes to my mind when people talk about this sort of thing. That is: saying “please” and “thank you.”

I have occasionally run across the attitude that these are just more examples of meaningless social noise, but I disagree with that attitude strongly. Much like other forms of social rituals that help to smooth interactions between people, simple expressions like “please” and “thank you” act as a vital social lubricant between people. “Thank you,” for instance, is a simple, shorthand way of saying “I recognize and acknowledge that you have done a thing for me, and I wish to express that I am appreciative of this and it has not gone unnoticed.” It smooths interactions. It helps people feel easier with each other. This is valuable.

I think sometimes part of the issue with this in particular and people on the autism spectrum is that neurotypicals, I gather, often seem to be able to grasp the value of those types of words and phrases intuitively. Or at least, neurotypicals seem to make the connection between using those words and finding interaction goes more smoothly fairly easily. Us autistic people, though, may have a more difficult time with that. And sadly, while neurotypicals may have an intuitive understanding, that does not mean they know how to fully articulate why it’s important or how it helps. So sometimes you wind up with people on the spectrum being rude (or at least impolite) without really understanding why, and neurotypicals being offended or bothered while having some difficulty articulating why.

Of course, there is more to being polite than simply saying “please” and “thank you.” Oh so very much more. There’s knowing when to talk and when not to talk, there’s knowing what sort of questions are appropriate to ask and what sorts are not, there’s learning to recognize and respect other people’s boundaries, how to enter or leave conversations, when it is or isn’t ok to touch people, and so very much more. Way more than I could ever address in a single blog post. And learning these things is more than just a simple lesson on being polite. They are all different skillsets that often need to be learned independently, and people on the autism spectrum often need to keep many in mind very explicitly and deliberately. It can be challenging. By and large, with few exceptions, I do strongly advocate working hard to learn how to functionally do these things, simply because we do live in a society and unless we are going to be hermits, it’s important to know how to navigate in society.

Now, before wrapping this up I want to go over an area of politeness that I actually strongly disagree with. Something where what is polite to most people comes across as ridiculously rude to me. Basically, there seems to be an entire arena of politeness that I describe as “politeness via lying.” There is a whole range of such things, all of which vex me to various degrees, but one type in particular that really gets my goat (I wonder what the root of that metaphor is) is phrasing requests or things that one wants as offers. When someone wants something for themselves, but is phrasing it as though it’s for the benefit of the other person. A very simple example is ending a phone conversation with “well, I’ll let you go now.” This one is actually only minorly vexing to me (I find it annoying, but at least I recognize it for what it is). However, people use this kind of phrasing for many things very often.

I really REALLY intensely dislike it, to an extreme degree.

From my point of view, when someone does that they are putting me in a position of being expected to mind read/recognize that what looks like an offer actually is not, and then obligates me to act grateful or like I am accepting something even if I don’t want it. Even if it’s a problem for me in some way. I cannot figure out the politeness of this; it comes across to me as shockingly rude. I have been informed that at least in this type of case, politeness is about obfuscating who the beneficiary is. That’s… interesting. However, I still don’t really understand it. The best I can manage is that it’s about avoiding vulnerability. Nonetheless, I still can’t quite bend myself to this one, and I get very resentful of people who use it with me.

I may write more about other specific areas of politeness and such in the future. As it is, the area is huge. Being polite is not always simple and straightforward, and decoding other people’s “politeness” is sometimes even more complicated. This does not mean that I believe Asperger’s or autism excuses rudeness, especially extreme rudeness, but it does mean that sometimes it really is hard. Sometimes we really don’t understand things that a neurotypical person thinks should be obvious. And sometimes we’re rude when we don’t mean to be.

Personally, I do try very hard.

And sometimes I mess up.

And then I keep on trying, and hope (once again) that people will meet me in the middle somewhere.


Filed under issue, ramble