A blog advocating autism through my own personal experiences and insights.

Archive for August, 2012

The Advantage of Sensitivity

I’ve been home for a couple of weeks now from my third term at Waterloo. I’m home now in Nova Scotia. My time has been fabulous. I went to my summerhouse in Margaree where I hung out with family, met some new people, now I’m home home on the Mira River in south eastern Cape Breton. I have a couple of weeks to go before the start of my second year at Waterloo (and given that I’m doing very well both academically and socially now, I only have feelings of optimism for the new year ahead).

I have talked a lot about how perfectionism has influenced me in previous posts especially negatively, but here I would like to talk about a positive aspect of it. I believe there at least a few good positives about being a perfectionist, but the one that I would like to list here comes from the issue of sensitivity. As a perfectionist, criticism doesn’t come easily for me to accept. And likewise I sometimes avoid hesitate or don’t make critical comments of others’ actions or words. I like to think about what I say before I actually say it. This is true in general for me given my slow processing speed because I’m autistic. But it’s even more prevalent for me when I feel that I’d like to make some kind of a critical comment.

It doesn’t matter how outrageous it is either. I once knew someone who said to me that he believed in Creationism and that evolution was false. While I felt annoyed to hear this, I didn’t jump at the guy’s throat either. Instead I told him in simple words that I thought the view wasn’t right and we left it at that and didn’t return to the subject again. Another example is last winter when a few of us graduate math students got together to celebrate a birthday. I forget exactly how it happened, but we got into the topic of how people meet each other for dating and one of us made the comment about not understanding why people used dating sites with the follow up question of why they can’t meet someone in “real life”. Now as someone who has no issue with using dating sites (certainly if it hasn’t been given me dates, it’s certainly been giving me a new friend here and there), I could’ve argued with this person, but I chose not to. I didn’t know how many others would take my side and I didn’t want to take the risk of standing out and looking foolish. I also didn’t want this particular person standing out and looking foolish either. Besides we soon left the topic and it wasn’t like it was that important either.

Being sensitive in this respect certainly has its advantages. You’re not likely to piss people off or repel others. I’m not saying that we should become totally passive (sometimes I am so) and never argue for a point of view, but we should be careful of how it is done or if it should be done at all. After all, if you seriously want to persuade someone of something or at least make them see a point of view, you’re not going to achieve that by being overly emotional or dramatic about it and/or pretend you know everything you talk about. Chances are you’re just going to make them hate your position even more. Even if your reasoning is correct and flawless, you still have to control how you say it to the other person or even how much of it you say. The philosophy society at the University of Waterloo posted a youtube video about this. Here’s the link for it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dmP9XozKEV0. It’s called Don’t be a Dick and has an astronomer talk about how arguing or criticising too forcefully usually backfires. Fortunately given I’m a sensitive autistic, I find this advice easy to take.

Fourth Level of Freedom: Balancing Between the Natural and the Unnatural

We all have things that we’re good at doing over other things. That’s just how we as humans were designed. And I’m finding that I’m getting better and better at cherishing the things that I am good at, while accepting there are things that I’m not so good at and can be quite challenging for me to do. Of course, a lot of this blog has been about exactly that, but I’m not stretching it to include every area of my life. Going through life, I see that there are things that I’m naturally good at, while there are other things that I have to work harder on in order to “get it right”. And striving for a balance between how much I should accept my flaws and how much I should work on them while at the same time cherishing the good things about myself can be a challenge in and of itself.

Examples of my natural abilities I have talked about a lot on here, those being in math, philosophy, writing, and following rules to the letter. There are also things that don’t come naturally to me, including navigating the social world and accepting criticism, especially given that I have perfectionistic tendencies. I would like to add something here that I haven’t yet mentioned on my blog (at least I don’t think I did). It deals with knowledge and how often I find I lack a lot of it. I’m not talking about the knowledge that we learn in school because I think it’s safe to say that I’ve met society’s expectations on me with regards to academic knowledge and have always been a really good student.

What I’m talking about here is general knowledge. General knowledge of news stories, politics, current events, pop culture etc. It’s these areas of knowledge that I lack quite a lot in. Having analyzed the reasons why I think I have a problem with these “general” areas is that it comes from society’s expectations on us to learn about these things in a more independent fashion and to not have to impose as much structure in how we learn them like we do with the areas of knowledge such as math, science, English, etc. that we learn in school. Mind you, a lot of these areas of general knowledge I find are a bit frivolous, particularly in pop culture (anyone up for taking the following course: Celebrity Gosspis 101? I didn’t think so). And given that such topics in pop culture are both highly frivolous and come unnaturally to me, I don’t really see the point in investing a lot of effort into it.

My knowledge of politics or current events isn’t that great either. Yes, I do know that there are three main political Canadian parties: conservative, liberal, and NDP and that the NDP are the official opposition to the current conservative majority government led by Stephen Harper. I also know that the NDP and the Liberals are currently leaderless (unless new leaders were picked recently, I haven’t heard anything so correct me if I’m wrong). Although I must admit that my political knowledge used to be not even as strong as that. I remember two years ago how I shocked a university counselor by not knowing the US political landscape and how she proceeded to give me a lesson in politics and how Barack Obama is in a left-wing party known as the Democrats and that George Bush was in right-wing party known as the Republicans, something I didn’t know at the time. I was certainly grateful for the lesson; at least the information was delivered to me in a structured classroom-like manner. Likewise my knowledge of current events isn’t great, which is why I’m starting to watch the news from time to time on my computer.

But going back to the main point, it all comes down to balancing between how much effort you have to put into something and how worthwhile it is. Fortunately I’m not the only person who struggles with such “general knowledge” topics. I’ve talked to a friend about this and she says her political knowledge isn’t that great either. I will of course continue to look at the news from time to time, but I’m not expecting any quick fix. Different people learn best in different ways. Given this, I can only give my best shot I can with the set of strengths and weaknesses I have. It’s ultimately up to me how I want to live my life. Analogously I had a publisher look at my novel once and suggested a lot of constructed criticism for it because he admitted others would disagree with his comments and that it was up to me to decide how I wanted to write (I ended up taking some, but not all of his advice).

This is why I reject the notion of common sense. Common sense deals with knowledge that we presume everyone around us already knows. I met another person with autism on an autism networking site (www.autismsupportnetwork.com) who rejected common sense for the same reason. Given that we all have difference backgrounds, different skill sets, and different “natural” and “unnatural” tendencies especially when it comes to picking up knowledge, it is a mistake (at least it looks like to me) to presume that just because we find certain knowledge easy to pick up that everyone else can pick up on it just as easily.

As I pointed out before in my last post, this summer I had two events happen to me over the last couple of months. The first was the incident of being hit by a car and the second one was that of having my bicycle stolen. I was hit by a car when I was walking with a friend across a standard two-lane street. He went first and then I followed. Across the street, some vehicles on the far lane were coming up so I stopped. And then I got hit by a car in the lane that I was in. Yes, I should’ve been more careful and I shouldn’t have blindly followed my friend. I didn’t suffer from much and after doctors in an ambulance checked me out at the scene I was all right and I’ve since recovered completely.

So right after the incident, my leg hurt a lot, which comes to the second incident of my bicycle being stolen. Given the state of my leg, I had trouble walking so wasn’t even going to attempt to ride my bicycle. That was when I made my second mistake. I left it at the university right outside the math building. Days passed. I moved it once into a more sheltered corner of the math building because it was starting to rain and I didn’t want my bicycle to get wet. Anyway, another couple of weeks passed, and once my leg was better, I went to get my bicycle and it wasn’t there anymore. I wasn’t alone, however. A math professor had his stolen the other night, as did another math masters student. I will admit that I was told by my parents that I shouldn’t have left my bicycle there and so will never make that mistake again.

The bicycle theft provides another good illustration. While I certainly accept the fact that it was a lesson learned and that it might be seen as going against common sense to some people, this wasn’t apparent to me until after the incident mainly because of a lack of knowledge of how common petty criminals are and how some of them can go around that can cut off bicycle cable locks. Fortunately, I was told by the campus police that I should get a metal U-lock given that they’re harder to cut when I reported the bicycle theft. I’m also pretty sure I’ve done other things that have gone against some people’s conception of common sense.

There you have it. Complete self-acceptance. The fourth level of freedom that generalizes from the three earlier ones from school and relationships and friends to all areas of my life. I feel the peace already.