View from the Edge

View from the Edge August 26, 2018

NB: This is not a post about the scandal in the Catholic Church.

The news is full of stuff that is beyond my ability to judge or comment on. I can’t untangle curial politics and loyalties any better for being angry or passionate. I’m not ready to draw blanket conclusions about any demographic or group’s capacity for honesty, reliability, sincerity, or motivation, though I’m certainly more or less sceptical of individuals or organisations based on my experiences.

It has taken a lifetime to discern which of the people I actually know are trustworthy, and I’m not confident I’ve got those answers all correct. I have to trust my perceptions and experiences when I interpret what other people do or say,  but I also have to balance that against the reality that other people don’t share those same perceptions and experiences.

I am socially incompetent–possibly diagnosably so–and I can’t navigate the ins and outs of social signalling well enough to navigate social media during emotionally explosive times.
 
So if I’m quiet when you think I shouldn’t be, I beg your forbearance. And if I speak when you think I shouldn’t, or don’t say what you think I should, I beg your forbearance. I know the way I see and express things can be different. I tentatively suggest that the way each of you see and process and understand the world of human interaction isn’t universal either.
That’s hard to remember when emotions are high. It’s probably more important to remember when emotions are high than any other time.Two different people can utter the same platitude and mean two different things. Two different people can utter the same platitude, and have two different sets of motivations. Two different people can say two apparently-opposed things, and have virtually the same motivations. Nothing looks the same close up as it looks from a distance. Nothing looks the same from a distance as it looks close up.

 

Why say any of this? If I were the only outlier on the social communication bell curve, maybe I wouldn’t bother. But I’m not. And every time I see some furore of righteous indignation sweep through social media, I see the same thing happening on the fringes—neurodiverse people becoming just a little more alienated from their larger neurotypical communities because their responses “read” wrong to those around them.

In times of anger and fear, ideological and social communities become more guarded and require more conformity from members. Certain phrases or responses are coded as right/wrong, good/bad, prosocial/antisocial, us/them. This kind of social coding is a normal part of communities, but when it shifts rapidly–as it tends to during times of heightened responses–it can move too quickly or with too little exploration and justification for less socially-attuned minds to follow.
More confusing yet, some kinds of speech are acceptable in some contexts and not in others, dependent on the emotions and intentions of the listener rather than the emotions and intentions of the speaker.  Those who wish to enter into dialogue must be capable of anticipating the group’s emotional responses and must be able to proactively navigate them in real time. If your responses are within the median range for the group, this comes intuitively. If you’re an outlier, it’s not intuitive at all.

I am fortunate to have a range of neurodiverse friends on social media. My understanding of other people, of myself, and of human potential has been enriched by their various perspectives and approaches. I’ve been challenged by devil’s advocates, humbled by gentle peacemakers, inspired by big-picture strategists, and assisted by concrete problem-solvers. I’ve had my ideals sifted and strengthened by pragmatic questions and my praxis rebuked and refined by idealists.

 

I don’t ask anyone to understand me or my friends. I don’t really understand myself consistently well.  I won’t ask you to anticipate our responses or conform to our expectations. We aren’t all different in the same ways, anyway. The bell curves in three dimensions.

 

I just ask you to remember we exist, and maybe try to make some room for us.

 

We have a lot to offer one another.


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