Monday, February 9, 2009

Constructive Confrontation: A Call for Mentorship

As we know, it's generally a good idea to let someone know from the git-go if you're not interested in dating, working together or the like, or if there's a problem. We Aspies and autists can help set the example.

One thing we've pointed out is that suffering in silence generally doesn't even help the other person, who's going to need to know sooner or later and will probably only be hurt (more) to find out later, after building up expectations.

The great irony here: if you let something slide, you can easily end up behaving worse toward the other person. As I've found out firsthand, some people drop hint after hint, get frustrated after their "clear signals" are "ignored," do a slow burn and then blow up at the other person.

Others who see their subordinates, protégés or students exhibiting problems but don't feel comfortable confronting them about it - especially if they do hold it against them when giving (or evaluating) assignments or other things or even deciding whether to keep them - are shirking their duties as bosses, mentors and teachers.

If you recognize yourself, here's an excellent opportunity to take a great step forward in 2009. People will respect you a lot more when you show self-control and the courage to apply the proverbial stitch in time that saves nine.

Take a leaf from the electricians: Adding a connection to the ground diverts excess voltage and releases static electricity buildups, which can otherwise burn and even electrocute people. Likewise, when you keep people "grounded" by "keeping it real," you divert energy which could otherwise build up, give you a slow burn and even shock you and everyone around you.

(No prize for guessing that I was raised by an electrician.)

Yes, there's a risk that the other person will not take it well. In that case, you've gotten an invaluable opportunity to test his/her maturity. If you're his/her boss, mentor or teacher, you can use that knowledge. Even if it's just someone you don't want to date or be friends with, you know to be glad you dodged that bullet.

(And if s/he starts harassing you, you can call the police knowing you gave a fair heads-up to leave you alone. If you can document that to the police, they will be much more likely to take swift action.)

Whatever your title, if you're a boss or teacher/college professor, you're also a mentor. As Spider-Man famously put it, "With great power, comes great responsibility."

In fact, mentorship has never been exclusively official. Friends (and I don't mean MySpace or Facebook "friends") are classic mentors.

StatMom has written an excellent account of certain Aspie impulses which - channeled appropriately - can help us Aspies and autists lead the way. Her daughter Reese, like many if not most other Aspies, is quick to see when things go wrong, and wants to put them right. Being only a child, she bosses people around and demands that they do whatever it is that needs doing. StatMom is showing her that most often (not always) only adults give orders.

But children can still be mentors to their friends and other people. Even with the tough tasks of persuading their friends that, say, copying their neighbors' tests is a bad idea, or sharing a bit of one's lunch with someone who forgot her own can be a good thing to do.

From long experience, I have come to embrace the old Russian proverb "The yes-man is your enemy, but your friend will argue with you." Now, the most important thing about all of my friends (not to mention Emily) is the ability and willingness to find and point out how I can improve (and of course, to value the same from me). That's exactly what it means for us to watch each other's backs - our blind spots.

Compliments are important social lubricants. The real machinery of friendship and mentorship lies in seeing how your brother, neighbor, close friend, wife, student, subordinate, etc., can be a better person, do a better job, become a better friend or partner...and then showing him/her the way. Aspies and autists' eyes for detail, verbal skills, courage and honesty - leavened with appropriate social skills like courtesy - will help.

What do you think?

1 comment:

Tanya @ Teenautism said...

Hi Jeff,

I agree completely - mentors are so important in life, and mentoring is a skill we should all strive to improve upon. You listed some great reminders to get us started. Excellent post!