Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Revealing too much?

       One common observation of people on the Autistic spectrum is that they tend to be too open about their faults and weaknesses, setting them up for scapegoating, ridicule, and harsh judgment. In teaching social skills to people this is one of the things pointed out. We all know it's not always bad to share our weakness if it helps others and were around people we trust but too much and it can appear naive. This advice to me sounds pretty much like stating the obvious but here's where it gets more tricky and why I feel many people continue to fall into this trap:
       A lot of Autistic people have a hard time starting and maintaining conversations, they also have to worker harder than others to gain people's respect and getting people to take them seriously enough to stay in a conversation with them. A lot of times people on the spectrum have narrow interests and while people may briefly fake an interest the conversation eventually gets cut off with a sigh. What I have noticed is when people are revealing their weaknesses whether directly or indirectly, people all of a sudden are all ears and have all the time in the world. When I say indirectly it's because we don't have to play "confessional box" to reveal our weaknesses, but just even having a conversation on a topic that we're not vell versed in is just of of many examples of how we can unwittingly reveal our weaknesses. Even simple but open ended conversation starters such as "What's new?" can be more difficult for Autistic people than discussing the history of Ancient Egypt. Even when people are revealing weakness of their families or an even larger group that they belong to, people never seem to get bored. On the other hand if a person on the spectrum shows their better side (I don't mean bragging either), but discussing a relevant topic where they are well versed or even giving friendly, appropriate advice that may challenge the other person's assumptions about them, that when eyes start to roll, conversations get cut off and end with "That's nice." and "Good for you.". It's like a subconscious reinforcement technique that people use.
       I also think the popularity of many of the most astute and successful social commentators and political pundits (unfortunately sometimes even religious leaders) can be attributed to the ability to point out faults in others- as long as they don't point out the faults of their target audience or anyone they may identify with.
       Thinking of all those bumper stickers I see stating "I'm a proud parent of an honor student at..." These have been the subjects of jokes and sarcasm including bumper stickers that state that "My kid beat up your honor student." I wonder, if a parent had a bumper sticker that stated "My son is in juvenile detention and my 14 year old daughter is pregnant- again!" if people would notice and remember them than something positive. Perhaps that parent may get friendly notes in their windshield saying "Here's my number, if you need to talk, call me, I'm all ears.". I wonder if this "schadenfreude" is what makes so many talk shows so popular. People rarely get paid to go on them to reveal their virtues and strengths. (On a side note a lot of the "trashy" behavior many people see on "Jerry Springer" type shows and gleefully go on sanctimonious rants about is many times behavior that is just as common among attractive, educated, mature, suburban, middle class young people, the same people that look down their nose on the low-brow people. Some people are just better at presenting their image.)
       Back to the topic: Another thing that makes this complicated for Autistic people is that self-deprecation is not always bad. Sometimes people use self-deprecation, including humor in a defensive way. Sometimes if we present ourselves as flawless and only reveal our good side and our successes, it sets ourselves up for "begrudgery". This is why many respectable or successful people may have to open up and show their weaker side before others decide that they need to be knocked down a couple of pegs. It's all about finding that perfect balance, and at the same time staying "real". Many Autistic people can at least say that they are genuine.

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