Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Shadow Dancing for Mars and Venus

We get bullied more than average. We're also lonely more than average. I'm very lucky to be married, but I met Emily only when I was 29 1/2 - and she became my very first girlfriend.

We may be able to meet people. Getting from meeting to dating is a very different kettle of fish. Asking somebody out, or letting the other person know you want to be asked out, involves vulnerability. If the other person says no, you've been rejected and of course that stinks. You may also feel foolish in the eyes of anyone who might know about it. You might not even be able to stay friends. Alternatively, the other person may decide to string you along and get some of the benefits of a dating "relationship" without actually feeling for you.

So, people tend not to ask others out just because they feel like it, or say straight out that they want to go out with you. It happens maybe once or twice in a blue moon.

On the other hand, the last thing you want is never to show interest in someone who just might want to go out with you and see him/her run off and marry someone else. Memories like that tend to haunt you the rest of your life. As the saying goes, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

So how do you show someone you're interested without showing that you're interested.

We've learned about shadow dancing to defend yourself. Let's see how it can help here.

The idea is to drop some delicate hints in word or deed that might show interest but could easily be explained away as something else. For any one such hint, the odds are low that someone is interested. String several together and the odds go up. (Tossing a coin once and having it come up heads is, well, a 50-50 shot. Tossing it three times and getting heads each time, on the other hand, is less than a 13% chance.)

So, let's look at a conversation that seems to be going well - maybe you and s/he have some common interests, you like to read the same things, you feel the same way about a public figure for the same reasons. You can casually mention that you've gone to the movies for the last several weekends, or concerts, or the theatre, or out to dinner. Each time by yourself. That's not a common pattern for people who already have significant others.

That in and of itself does not mean you are necessarily interested in the other person. It doesn't even necessarily mean you're unattached; maybe the love of your love happens to be working late the last few weeks, or even lives across the country. But it will cause the other person to prick up his/her ears: Since people know that people pick up on hints of not already having a mate, the other person will figure that you, knowing this, intended him/her to think you may be unattached. And if so, why would you want him/her to think that? Likely because you're thinking of wanting to go out with him/her.

The other person may casually mention a boyfriend/girlfriend, or even a sexual orientation which precludes interest in you. Or on the other hand, s/he can pick up the thread and run with it. S/he may ask you when you expect to catch the next performance by so-and-so. That could mean s/he's going to match your answer against his/her free-time schedule and see if there's an overlap.

Or on the other hand if you show a trait the other person deems undesirable (say, the wrong political views or a bad taste in music), s/he could always be busy that day anyway.

Showing one's possible unattached status and asking about the other person's schedule are two common hints of possible interest. Others include questions about which neighborhood one lives in or where one works or goes to school, because they imply possible interest in opportunities to see and talk with the other person again. Asking questions where the answers would likely reveal the other's attached status (eg, "Next time you go, are you going to try to get two seats? I know it can be tough if that group's really popular") is a strong hint.

NB: The other person giveth, and the other person can taketh away. Both you and the other person can change direction at any time.

This is shadow dancing for Venus as well as Mars: keeping it all normal on the surface, keeping plausible deniability until the other person's intentions become obvious and delicately responding to one another's moves.

Also check out what Marc "Animal" MacYoung says about the bonding process.

It's an art that people spend their lives perfecting, and we start out behind the curve.

Just like Franklin Delano Roosevelt found himself way behind the curve when he first came down with polio.

What do you think?

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Aspie and Autist Guide to Self Defense, Part IV: Shadow Dancing

We need to be able to defend ourselves from physical as well as social threats. As Woody Guthrie famously sung, some rob you with a six-gun and some rob you with a fountain pen.

Meanwhile, as Sun Tzu famously wrote, the greatest victory comes from a battle that's never fought.

And sometimes, the only way you can avoid fighting is to show the other person that while you have no desire to start anything, if s/he does you will finish it. As self-defense expert Marc "Animal" MacYoung puts it, the aggressor is in effect "interviewing" you for the "job" of victim. S/he's testing your willingness and ability to resist. You "pass" the interview by showing you're not prepared to fight back.

As we've learned, however, if you just go around issuing threats - whether in word or manner - you will attract the very things you're trying to avoid. Most of the people you'd threaten would previously have had no interest in attacking you. Some of them, however, will look on your actions as a challenge to their status - and we've learned how they'd respond. Most of the rest will just think you're a fool.

And of course, even someone who was planning to attack you now has the perfect excuse - after all, who was getting aggressive first?

Whether the attacks in question would be physical attacks on the street in a seedy part of town or in a biker bar or attacks on your credibility in the workplace, the basic principles are the same.

You need to prepare yourself, and issue the appropriate warnings, in ways visible only to a likely aggressor, clearly geared toward meeting a particular act of aggression and no more and plausibly deniable (yes, this means a bit of selective description of your motives) to everyone including the potential aggressor. MacYoung calls it Shadow Dancing.

If someone comes to, say, your place of work and looks like s/he may want to start something with you, you can drop what you're doing and move to a nearby location with a heavy tool nearby. Officially, all you've done is change your tasks and location within the limits of your job. Unofficially, you've let the other person know that you're alert, you know what s/he may be planning, you're confident (since you're not making a deal of it - it's "all in a day's work") and you're prepared to seriously hurt him/her if s/he tries anything.

An attacker will likely be deterred, not only by your being near a weapon but also by your demonstration of alertness ("I'm not sure if I can catch him/her by surprise anymore, and maybe s/he's well-coordinated enough to turn me into bloody hash if I try anything"), your confidence ("What does s/he know that I don't? Maybe s/he's tougher than I thought!") and resolve to possibly use the weapon if need be ("Talk is cheap, but it looks like this person is serious about using that on me if s/he has to.")

Of course, someone who's not looking to attack you won't be offended by, and may not even notice the significance of, what you just did. And if s/he or anyone else actually calls you out on it "Hey - what are you doing going for a weapon?" you can just say "Hey, I'm just shelving boxes here now - so what if that big hammer (which I'm not even touching) just happens to be here?"

If one of your co-workers is thinking of trying to make you look bad, you can shadow dance. Say you're both at a meeting with your boss. You're both rivals for the boss' attention and you suspect the other person may want to make you look stupid so the boss trusts him/her more. So maybe the boss asks about a topic you know something but not a whole lot about, say financial management. Your co-worker may ask about expense account reporting procedures...and include a seminar s/he's attended that s/he wants reimbursement for. A financial management seminar.

If you turn around and say "I know why you said that! You're just trying to impress the boss!" you will look foolish and actually do yourself in. The co-worker can say "What are you talking about? I was just asking about expense accounts." Meanwhile the boss is thinking "Well, your co-worker is certainly doing a good job of impressing me with regard to (1) knowledge of the topic - which you haven't refuted - (2) savoir-faire and (3) perspective."

Instead you say something like "Hey, that must have been an interesting seminar? Did the instructor mention Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Financial Management But Were Afraid to Ask?" If the co-worker says "Yes," you can show you're on the same plane of knowledge as s/he is, especially when you mention a few topics from the book. If s/he says "No," you can go on with "Oh I can understand that - it just came out six months ago. I'm sure they'll be talking about the chapter about the new techniques in place since Sarbanes-Oxley...." And you've shown you not only know financial management, but you also have the very latest knowledge - important in a business setting.

You've shown your rival and your boss that not only do you know about financial management, you sense challenges before they can become big problems and you can respond with proportion. Those are important qualities for serious responsibility.

In any case, you may have to carry out a few more rounds of move and countermove before the would-be aggressor is convinced that you know the score and backs off.

In a nutshell, Shadow Dancing means: Move yourself into position to fight back. Block the other person's moves to more advantageously attack you. Make it all look normal and force the other person to out-and-out attack you - without the advantage of surprise, weakness on your part or the ability to blame you - if s/he wants to start anything.

What do you think?

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Aspie and Autist Guide to Self Defense, Part III: When Not in Rome....

We know we need to adapt to the implicit rules around us. We also need to understand that "around us" means wherever we happen to be at a particular time, not just where we were born or raised.

Self-defense expert Marc "Animal" MacYoung points out that different social settings - different cliques in school, different neighborhoods, different kinds of workplaces, even people of different educational levels, different ethnic groups and different socio-economic levels - mean different norms about what makes for respect and status and how violations are punished.

Step on someone's toes in one part of town and you could get a raised eyebrow, be snapped at or yelled at, maybe not get invited to a good club or party, maybe even lose out on a good deal or a promotion. "Dis" somebody in another part of town and you could get a fat lip and a shiner...if you're lucky. Or maybe a broken bone or two or a cracked skull. Or even your very own slab at the morgue.

One important difference is that some kinds of people abhor physical violence. You can get arrested and even put in jail just for grabbing someone. Other people consider physical violence a perfectly normal, even necessary, way to redress insults. They may also consider, say, sexually molesting or even raping a young woman who has passed out at a party acceptable. You could say that the former are much more civilized than the latter.

MacYoung himself would agree with you. Noting that there's some correlation between high socio-economic status and being civilized, he calls those who live by more civilized norms "Romans" and those who don't "barbarians". Problems arise when Romans - especially young Romans out for a good time - stray into barbarian territory while expecting Roman rules to still apply.

Note that I said "physical violence". You and I - especially if we're Romans - might consider that a redundancy. Many others, especially barbarians, don't. We Romans feel that whatever happens, violence is never acceptable, and we expect to never be hit, kicked, stabbed, sexually molested, etc.

Well, as MacYoung puts it, barbarians see violence as more of a continuum. In other words, suppose you get into an argument at the deli about who was next in line, and you call the other person a rude moron, complete with not-ready-for-prime-time language, maybe right in front of his friends. He just might decide that a right uppercut to your kisser is the perfect repartee. And he'll be sure as he knows his own name that you started it with your (verbal) violence. Why should you be immune to punishment when you attack others? Are you some kind of privileged character, that no one can touch you?

We don't have to agree with this view. We do need to understand that certain kinds of people do - and they act on it. They may not show it when they're sweeping our office floors, ringing up our purchases or serving our dinners - that is, on our turf. On their turf, their rules count - not ours. And as MacYoung has made clear, if we explore terra incognita, we need to learn the prevailing rules, the subtle signs of respect and status, the warning signals that someone is ready and (about to be) willing to inflict serious retribution on our hides and the best ways to escape while there's still time.

What do you think?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Happy Anniversary Emily

My darling NT wife, Emily, has been a lawyer for two years today.

Emily went to Georgetown University Law Center on a 3/4 time basis, and at the same time was a full-time law clerk at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority as well as a part-time online producer for the Washington Post, managing their home page on weekends (which she still does) and an intern for CQ (Congressional Quarterly) Press covering US Supreme Court cases. She also published articles on privacy law and spyware/malware. Last but not least, she managed to maintain a relationship and begin a marriage with me.

Emily passed the Maryland State Bar, held in the last week of July 2006. (Even though she had graduated from Georgetown Law and we lived in Virginia, she took the Maryland Bar since she was due to start a one-year clerkship in October for now Chief Judge Peter Krauser of the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, which is like a Court of Appeals in most other states. Appellate clerkships are given only to the best law school graduates, and generally are springboards to the top.)

When we found out in October that Emily had passed the bar, of course we were both ecstatic. Her mother and I were proud to see her sworn in as a Maryland lawyer on December 12, 2006 at the Maryland Court of Appeals (the highest court in Maryland, like most other states' Supreme Courts).

After a successful term at the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, Emily has moved on to the Board of Veterans Appeals in Washington, DC as associate counsel. She reviews veterans' appeals of decisions on their benefits claims and writes draft opinions for the judges. Just about six weeks ago, she finished her probationary year with flying colors and was immediately promoted. (In fact, the judges made that decision ahead of time; everyone just had to wait for the anniversary of her hiring to make it official.)

Emily just co-authored an article in the seminal issue of the Veterans Law Review about the importance of new media in veterans benefits. She has also taught Constitutional Law at Anne Arundel Community College. She was chosen for a special assignment in Waco, Texas all this week, helping veterans there with their claims.

Happy anniversary of becoming a lawyer. I miss you and love you, Emily.

Possible Bullying Scandal at Miss Porter's

While we're discussing bullying, you might be interested to know that Miss Porter's School, a classic "ticket to power" boarding (and day) school much like Andover, Exeter and Hotchkiss, is being sued by a girl, Tatum Bass, who claims she was bullied there by many of her fellow students. Not only is the school itself being sued, but also the headmaster, Katherine Windsor, is being sued personally.

Miss Bass claims, among many other things, that she was scorned and called "retarded" because she has ADD/ADHD (Attention Deficit Disorder/Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).

I have no idea whether Miss Bass was bullied or if so by whom, what happened or what the school could (or could not) have done to prevent or stop it. But if wealthy, privileged and powerful girls at one of our most respected traditional institutions can bully, who and where do we know is immune from bullying?

No one and no place.

What do you think?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Aspie and Autist Guide to Self Defense, Part II: Stopping Bullies

No doubt about it, bullying is a serious problem. Especially for us Aspies and autists, and those who love us. For example, Tanya Savko feels it necessary to homeschool her 14-year-old autistic son, Nigel, because some other kids bullied him. Meanwhile, Sharon daVanport - herself an Aspie - discusses what happened when her Aspie son Ty was being bullied. I myself was bullied until maybe 9th or 10th grade, and it only stopped because I proved I was willing to fight back.

Marc "Animal" MacYoung, whom we met in my last post, gives a wealth of advice on how to avoid being bullied. Let's look at the dynamics of bullying:

To start with, many people end up getting bullied and assaulted due to the very behavior they hoped would prevent it. Confrontational tactics disproportionate to the situation, or even before there was any situation, combined with obvious nervousness (especially repeated quick glances at the bully), make clear to a bully that you are all hawk and no spit, and that you can start fights easily enough but you can't finish them.

As MacYoung points out, people who really are confident they can take on a bully don't go out of their way to try to show it. They either ignore him/her when s/he walks in, or give him/her a single momentary glance and then go on about their business. "Heavy hitters," as MacYoung terms them, do pay some attention to the bully moves - subtly; they devote the majority of their attention to what they were doing and keep their observation of the bully under wraps. And they know how to look at a bully in a way that really shows him they can wipe up the floor with him/her if need be - and that if not need be, that is if the bully doesn't start anything, there will be no confrontation and everyone can go about their business.

Whereas victims may bluff, may force a confrontation...and show weakness. Any bully who knows his (or her) business can sense whether you really believe you can take him/her on, and whether s/he's having an effect on you and if so what kind of effect. Remember that bullies enjoy scaring people: that's why they do it! If you were, say, a coin collector, wouldn't you be able to figure out quickly where to find coin shops and fellow collectors? Bullies can figure out victims just as quickly.

Bullies (and criminals, and many other folks) understand that most people have a very good idea of whether or not they can take them on, and that their behavior reflects that. Really confident people show their abilities without trumpeting them. Blowhards show their weakness. This is true whether the bullying is physical, emotional, political (as in either government politics or workplace politics, apartment-building politics, etc) and so forth.

Btw, when I say take on a bully, I don't just mean defeat the bully. If a bully figures there's a significant chance of actually getting hurt, s/he's going to find someone else. That's why many periods of bullying end with a climactic fight between the bully and the erstwhile victim. Win or lose, the victim can likely get rid of the bully after that since there are always easier targets.

Easier targets provide endless fun for bullies by showing how scared they are even before a blow is landed. Scared people don't resist since they don't think in terms of being free of the bully (although of course they would like that) so much as avoiding the worst possible treatment the bully can possibly give them - and bullies love to let their victims intimidate themselves by letting their imaginations run wild. It takes confidence, calm and short-term guts (not to mention pain tolerance) to stop a bully.

Bullying, like crime more broadly, generally doesn't start out of the blue - though it may seem that way to the victim who didn't see it coming. Bullies usually test potential victims, much like criminals, in MacYoung's word, give "interviews" - that you want to fail. The idea is to test you, starting out with very small impositions, things that can easily be denied or explained away if need be - maybe repeated "accidental" pokes, or jokes about your name or other nasty teasing, or a little kick to the shins when the teacher's back is turned.

If you give a measured response, the bully knows that you know the rules, you may well have the self-discipline and coordination which translates into good fighting skills and in any case you probably have the social competence to have friends who will help you out. S/he's likely going to decide there's no percentage in trying to mess with you, and move on.

If you overreact - or don't react at all, or cringe and beg, or ask the bully why s/he's doing this - the bully has hit pay dirt and will keep upping the ante to see just how much s/he can get away with.

This process might sound familiar. As MacYoung points out, acquaintance/date rapists do the same thing. So do blackmailers and extortionists - "[I]f once you have paid him the Dane-geld, you never get rid of the Dane". The victim, thinking only of the here and now, sees only the small imposition compared with the much worse things the bully/criminal could do, and misses the not-so-long-term effects of signaling that s/he's afraid - namely much greater impositions. And of course giving in once makes it easier to do so again the next time.

When I was young, I read a magazine article about a child pornography - really teenage girl pornography - scheme. The girls had originally agreed to model, fully clothed, for money. How did the criminal get them to perform sex acts on camera? Not by coming up to them one fine day and saying "Here, now take it all off and do it with these boys while I take pictures." They would have been out of there like nobody's business. And just using physical force would have taken more muscle than he probably had - just putting guns to their heads would likely have resulted in their calling the cops as soon as they got out of there, unless he could somehow have either held them captive or kept them under surveillance to credibly threaten them with harm if they called the police.

Rather, he started out by offering to pay more for bikini photos - after all, what their parents didn't know wouldn't hurt them, and what teenager can't use some extra money?

After some bikini photos, he would suggest nude shots - perhaps first without full frontal nudity, then with it. The girls (that is, those who had accepted his offer instead of heading for the door) had shown they were willing to break the rules for money and that they didn't have a good sense of their boundaries and a willingness to defend them. Perhaps most important was the threat of blackmail - what if the photographer sent their parents the bikini shots?

And of course, the pressures were multiplied when it came time for actual sex on camera. The girls (the ones who remained, that is) had compromised themselves, both under the threat of blackmail and in their own minds; turning back now would also mean admitting to themselves how deeply they had fouled up. Also, they had been desensitized to sexual overtures from the pron kingpin. They were too demoralized to resist any longer.

It takes long-term thinking - the ability to see it coming and to make short-term sacrifices - to prevent bullying and to stop it in its tracks if it does occur. Among other things, you need to show self-restraint in how you interact with others. You also need to be willing to obey the rules (both the rules other people impose on you and the ones you set for yourself) as much as possible. If and when you do break them you need to be able to reverse course and admit to yourself - maybe even to other people as well - that you were wrong, and take your lumps. You may need to be able to actually fight once in a while.

What do you think?

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Aspie and Autist Guide to Self Defense, Part I: Introduction

No, this isn't how to karate-chop ten ninjas into oblivion and finally get the girl. And no, we won't be putting Jackie Chan or Chuck Norris out of work anytime soon.

Self-defense, rightly understood, means not getting hurt or killed. And what's even better than presence of mind in front of an assailant? Absence of body. As I once overheard a young woman summarize her self-defense class' three main points: "Don't be there. Don't be there. Don't be there." If you don't get into a fight in the first place, it's kinda hard to get hurt in one.

As Sun Tzu, author of The Art of War, pointed out in essence: The greatest fighter is not the one who wins all his battles, but the one who subdues the enemy without fighting at all.

Does this mean peace at any price? Of course not. Once in a blue moon (a bit more often in certain lines of work which seem a lot more glamorous than they are), you may actually have to fight. But most fights - like most traffic accidents - are avoidable.

World-renowned self-defense expert Marc "Animal" MacYoung understands this. He teaches fighting techniques, for when you have to fight, and conflict-avoidance techniques for the other 99% of the time.

And these days, we're going to have even more trouble. The economy is going downhill fast. And as MacYoung points out, when times are bad and people are either losing their jobs, businesses or portfolios or afraid of that happening, more people react badly to stress. When times are tight, there's more tension in the air, more people start fights over things they'd have otherwise ignored and more people are going to get hurt. (And yes, this goes both ways - you could just as easily end up reacting badly to someone else's [perhaps innocent] provocations as the other way around.) We really need to learn how to de-escalate situations before they explode.

MacYoung emphasizes a nuts and bolts approach; he doesn't just say "Trust your gut" or "Be Careful," but rather tells us what specific things to look for and how to deal with them. That we can appreciate, since it's difficult for us to pick up on cues until we've been trained to look for them - then our attention to detail serves us well.

For example, he warns that if you see several toughs leaning against a wall at not-too-wide intervals, either walk back the other way (and call the authorities) or choose a different path. Do not go right past them - if you do, once you pass the one closest to you he will follow you and block your escape and the one furthest out will step into your path too. Of course, any toughs in the middle can then set upon you right then and there. You'll be surrounded and that's a recipe for being beaten, mugged...or worse.

The attack on Pearl Harbor was a surprise on this day 67 years ago - but it didn't just happen out of the blue. And neither do most assaults and fights. In this series, we'll learn more about how to see them coming in time to stop them. As the Latin saying goes: praemonitus praemunitus - forewarned is forearmed.

What do you think?

Friday, December 5, 2008

Before You Yell or Curse at a Child (Or Anyone Else), Please Check This Out

Megan Bayliss, mother of an Aspie, knows how frustrating it can be sometimes to deal with Aspies (especially the small fry). They interrupt you when you so obviously (at least obviously to you and to others around you) are busy. They are blunt and can sound disrespectful. You sometimes have to hear complaints about them.

But please don't curse or scream at an Aspie anymore than you would curse or scream at anyone else. As she's learned, once the words are said (or yelled), you can't unsay them. Sticks and stones may break one's bones, but bones heal faster than many minds do after tirade upon tirade from angry or just impatient adults - and the children they implicitly encourage.

Ms. Bayliss' message, in effect: Count to ten if you have to, but make not the children suffer.

Please, set the example.