Tag Archives: understanding

Let’s be more understanding

There is a thing that people do that I do not like. And by “people” I mean “everyone.” Me, you, that random stranger down the street, your friends, your family, everyone. EVERYONE. In my general efforts to increase my compassion, I am trying to be more aware of it and to stop doing it. Refraining from doing so takes effort and can even be uncomfortable, but I believe that it is worth it.

That thing being – when seeing people do a thing that we do not understand, deciding that the thing is stupid or worthless.

Yeah, this isn’t really an autism thing (though I do plan to relate it back to autism, of course. this is part of my speaking out). It’s an everyone thing. I talked about it a little when I spoke of social rituals. I see autistic people looking at unfamiliar social rituals and deciding that the ritual they are looking at must have no meaning, simply because we cannot see the meaning. I see it so often. I’ve done it myself. It’s such an easy way to think.

I’ve known people who thought that simple “thank you’s” had no meaning, because they could not see the meaning, so they did not say “thank you.”

Many people have declared the “how are you?” ritual stupid and meaningless, because they could not see the meaning (to reiterate – it is a way to ritually acknowledge a person’s humanity if we are not otherwise strongly connected).

I’ve seen people declare the fast-paced chattering of teen girls meaningless, because they could see no meaning.

And that’s so easy to do. Such an easy thing to think. But think about the times when it is turned against autistic people.

When people cannot see why we flap our hands, so decide it must be meaningless.

When people cannot understand why we may need to escape from sensory overload, so decide that the best idea is to just force us to stay in the situation.

Or, going a slightly different direction, when people cannot understand why we cannot understand some social formula, and so assume malevolence in a simple mistake.

It becomes easy to see the problem when we see it used against us. However, the problems are not single, isolated things. They are part of an overarching behavior set that is entirely pervasive in society (at least American society. I cannot speak to other countries or cultures). I mean, even the sentence “I don’t understand why people do that” is code for “that thing people are doing is bad.” It’s used even when the thing in question isn’t harming anyone. When the action in question is just *strange* to our eyes, in some way.

I want to advocate for acceptance of our autism. This means that society needs to learn to accept how we are different. People need to learn that just because we look or act differently, that doesn’t mean the things we do have no meaning. A neurotypical may not find any meaning in flapping their hands, but that is not adequate reason to conclude that no one can find meaning in flapping their hands.

The thing, though, is that because I think it is a part of this overall failure to accept differences just in general, it is that overall failure that needs to be addressed. So if I don’t understand a thing that a person is doing, I make an active effort to conclude that the problem is on my end and not theirs. It is my failure to understand, not their failure to make sense. As I mentioned above, this can be uncomfortable. It is easier to blame other people so that I do not have to see shortcomings in myself. Especially when society at large is so quick to shove all my shortcomings in my face and blame me for every misunderstanding, every cruelty someone perpetuates on me, every awkward moment that happens between me and anyone else. People blame autism far too often, but that is a rant for another time. The point is, we want people to accept their failure to understand and not shove it onto us. We want people to accept us, and realize that if they want to understand they will need to take the time to do so.

This means that we need to be willing to do the same. It is not ok to ask others to do a thing that we are not willing to do ourselves. So when I see something I do not understand, I assume that the fault is mine. I do my best to accept, regardless of my level of understanding.

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You don’t get me

Ok, so I’m planning on making two main points here, which can be summed up, very roughly as follows:

1. You don’t get me.

2. You don’t need to get me.

Now, number 1 is a very broad generalization that isn’t actually entirely true. Lots of people have various forms of shared experiences and can, to a degree, understand each other, or at least certain aspects of each other. Maybe you are also on the autism spectrum, maybe you are also an adult, maybe you also have a non-standard experience of gender. The more things we have in common, the greater an understanding of each other we can have.

However, our understanding will never be complete. There will always be things about other people that we just don’t get. Things that are confusing, that don’t make sense to us, things that seem like they *should* be another way.

I’m an introvert. Introverts (at least, particularly strong introverts) make up around 25% of the population. The other 75% of the population is made up of extroverts and ambiverts. Point being, introverts are in the minority. As an introvert, I’ve had a few experiences with extroverts that all went roughly the same way.

extrovert: You should like socializing in groups.

me: well, I don’t. I like socializing one-on-one.

extrovert: no, that makes no sense because Reasons. Just try it, you’ll see.

me: I have tried it, many times. I’m not like you, and I find it much easier to socialize one on one.

extrovert: I don’t get it, therefore I don’t accept it. You must be wrong.

Seriously, that is not cool. Don’t do that, by the way. As an introvert (a really strong introvert) I find extroversion baffling. I don’t get it. Getting energy from people? Enjoying socializing in groups? This makes no sense. If I were to assume my own experiences were universal, I would conclude that extroverts are all fooling themselves.

Of course, they’re not. I know this. Because I don’t actually have to get it. I’ll never get it, it will never make sense to me, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t accept it. There are people out there, lots of people out there, who honestly enjoy group socialization. Who find it easy and relaxing. There are people out there who like, even prefer, spontaneity in their social life. There are people who don’t need routines, or who experiences routines as ruts.

I don’t get any of that. But I accept it. Sadly, sometimes it seems like people aren’t offering very much acceptance in return. Not only that, but all too often I see people say “I don’t get it” as just another way of saying “I don’t accept it, you must be wrong.” That’s not cool at all. You don’t need to get it in order to accept it. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that even if you can get it, you’re better off accepting first, and then getting to the understanding bit. Because in the end, acceptance is more important.

I also think the phrase “I understand” is overused. People seem to think saying “I understand” is a good way to show compassion. Maybe I’m strange, but I don’t find this to be the case. I mean, it can be nice if it’s coming from a person who really does understand. However, if you have no experience with anxiety or depression or being on the autism spectrum or whatever else, then you clearly do *not* understand if I am having difficulty in one of those areas. Personally, I’d rather not be lied to. Also, I don’t need you to understand. I need you to accept that what I am saying is true, even if it doesn’t make sense to you. I need you to tell me that you care and you’re here for me, even if you don’t really get it. That, in my book, is compassion. Certainly not faking an understanding that you don’t have.

Most people are not like me. Being a woman on the autism spectrum, I am in a minority. Most people are not going to understand how I experience the world, and that’s ok. All I ask for is acceptance. I want to be heard and believed.

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