who we are

~

Yesterday’s post obviously hit a lot of nerves. I sincerely apologize to those who felt belittled or dismissed by my words. You have a point. A significant one in fact. And as I said last night, I am grateful to those who took the time to respectfully educate me.

In many ways, I hate moments like yesterday. I can’t stand feeling as if I’ve done or said something that in no way fits in with the way that I want to live my life. For a couple of minutes at the end of the day, I was tempted to take the post down and run for the hills. However, that’s not my style. And importantly, I have found that it’s those moments in my life in which I learn something. Growing out of our long-held perceptions isn’t always easy. But it’s what I ask others to do every day. I can imagine nothing more hypocritical than refusing to do the same.

Touching a Nerve, Diary, August, 2010

 ~

People hurt each other.

It happens.

It’s an unavoidable part of the human experience.

Careless words, thought to be funny, lacerate sensitive skin. Frivolous deeds – a missed invitation, a joke at a friend’s expense – make someone feel targeted, feel left out.

A careless assumption dangerously maligns an entire group of people.

A rant – thought to be silly –  cuts into the heart of real issues.

We hurt people.

It happens.

It’s an unavoidable part of the human experience.

It’s how we act when we do that shows us who we are.

Do we reflect upon the moment? Do we ask ourselves why people are hurt? Do we delve deep to figure out how we can do better – how we can avoid causing pain in the future? Do we reach out a hand in apology and friendship or do we point a finger at anyone but ourselves?

Do we dig in our heels and entrench ourselves even further in our own ideology? Or do we take the opportunity to push past our comfort zone and examine our responsibility – to ourselves – to our children – to one another?

Do we allow ourselves to learn something or do we lash out in self-preservation? Do we take the coward’s route and convince ourselves that anyone who might have been hurt by our words could only have been so by their own shortcomings, their own baggage?

Two years ago, I had a terribly uncomfortable conversation. I’d written something I’d thought was funny yet insightful. It turned out it was neither. What it was was unintentionally hurtful and dismissive.

A reader came out of nowhere and made it clear that my words had hurt her. I was stunned. And defensive. “I’m a good person!” I wanted to shout. “I said all of this from a good place! For the right reasons! You’re reading your pain into it! That’s not on me!”

But then another reader stepped forward. And her pain too dripped off the computer screen like toxic ink.

One I could rationalize away. Two stopped me in my tracks.

I had a choice. I could delete the post and run. I thought about it, but it wasn’t me. I could write private notes to the offended commenters explaining that I’d meant no harm. I could ignore them completely and decide that their interpretation of my words was not my problem.

Or I could do what I did.

I could ask myself *why* they were hurt.

Every day we in the autism community ask people to change their thinking. We ask them to change their language, to change their approach. To change their hearts.

How dare we have the audacity to do that in the absence of our own willingness to do the same.

The night after I’d published that post, I spent hours reading and rereading the comments. I painstakingly stripped away the layers of my ego that insisted it wasn’t my fault. I took away everything that I thought I knew and started over, building a new perspective thru a broader lens.

I did what I ask people to do. I tried my best to walk in someone else’s shoes.

The next day, I wrote about all of it. I owned the fact that I had caused pain. It was hard. I was embarrassed. I apologized. I felt foolish. I shared what I had learned in the hope that perhaps someone else might learn something along with me. And in the end,  I began a correspondence with the woman who had first taken offense to the post. Across the country, we became friends. She has stuck around. She has now been willing to put herself in my shoes. I am proud to call her a friend.

We hurt each other.

It’s an unavoidable part of the human experience.

It’s how we act when we do that shows us who we are.

~

8 thoughts on “who we are

  1. “It’s how we act when we do that shows us who we are.” and Jess, how you act continually shows a tremendous generosity of compassion and understanding.

  2. As the author of a book called “A Parent’s Guide to Children with High Functioning Autism”, I have to say that I winced-hard- when I read your original post, and stayed silent. And as someone who was part of that original “gifted” discussion, I know that terms are loaded. As a parent, I fight for people to see my child as an individual- who she is and who she could be and a label has very little to do with either of those aspects.

    However, as a teacher, labels give me targets. They give me ideas of things that children have in common. They also give me access to services that I can use to help my students. When I hear “high functioning” I think of a different range of services than for a student who is “low functioning”. It doesn’t mean that I automatically reach for “If HFA, then X program”. And I hope that it doesn’t mean that I have unreasonable expectations- in either direction. But it does mean that I will look at U,V,W, X and Y and Z first. It means that I don’t waste my time- or my student’s time- trying A or B or C. Time is so precious as a teacher… there is never enough of it, especially when children and parents are begging for help NOW. Labels are ways to help streamline some of that time so that I don’t give the wrong services. Often, we’re wrong. I get that. But the goal of a label for me as a teacher- whether that label is “HFA”, “the Bluebird Reading group”, or “4th grade”- is to aim in the right area and refine instruction based on the wonderful, individual characteristics of the child.

    • thank you for this .. i understand that labels are, to some degree, necessary. i worry about their implications though for those without the in-depth understanding that you have – which is, well, most of the world. your perspective is wonderful, but arguably much more evolved than the average bear. i know there’s a need to streamline services and to find commonalities, but our children’s individual recipes of strengths and challenges tend to be so unique, i still feel that in general, it’s a relatively dangerous practice.

  3. “Every day we in the autism community ask people to change their thinking. We ask them to change their language, to change their approach. To change their hearts.

    How dare we have the audacity to do that in the absence of our own willingness to do the same.”

    YES!! If we truly care about how other people feel and if what we are wanting to do with our voice is help others we MUST remember this!

  4. Hey, Jess!
    I felt like I totally got your last post. I mean, the labels, grrrr!!!! I work with some people, who, on most days I totally respect, but sometimes…. I am so tired of people telling me I caused Bobby’s autism. I am super tired of people down-grading his life situation by saying he’s “only got Asperger’s.” Really??? He’s on the spectrum. That’s all. It affects him and us. It affects his brothers who just want him to “stop acting strange.”

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