Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Honesty is the Best Policy


You may recall I noticed an article about the pitfalls of passive-aggressive pussyfooting.

I recently saw an example of the positive side of the lesson. Ann Marsh, in "What I Learned from Dating 100 Men," shows how she learned how liberating honesty can be - for her and her suitors:

I needed to be honest in a new way. In my 20s, when the wrong man asked me out, I usually lied. I was either (a) busy, (b) dating someone else, or (c) moving to Siberia for a year. Sensing my fib, some men refused to let go. A few talked me into dates or, worse, relationships. I marvel to think I left the nest without ever learning how to verbalize my own needs and desires.

One of my earliest electronic dates taught me about honesty. "It was really nice to meet you," the tall, good-looking athlete wrote me in an e-mail after Date Number Two, "but I didn't feel that indescribable something that would tell me we're a match."

I sat there looking at my computer screen. He had found the words to describe my own sentiments. I didn't feel rejected. I felt liberated by his courage. Better yet, I stole his line.

A handsome telecommunications executive I met over a drink at a restaurant one evening looked and sounded far less alluring to me a few days later in the sober light of day. In a subsequent telephone conversation, my whole body tensed while I told him that I didn't get the sense he was the right one and that I didn't want either of us to waste precious time. I wished him well. He sounded a little startled. But the discomfort was short-lived. We were both free.

It's embarrassing to admit that I was learning the very basics about personal boundaries at the age of 34. But it was also a thrill. Like a suit of comfortable, lightweight body armor, my newly declared boundaries kept me safe.

(Emphases added.)

A few tips for keeping it nice:

  • The sooner the better, before he's built up expectations and made more plans - and before you've made false declarations of loyalty which would make you feel foolish afterwards (and perhaps bound to disavow forcefully).

  • Whenever possible - which it isn't always - avoid attacking what the other person did. If you can, put it in the first person singular: "I just don't feel that match."

  • When it's not possible, or when the other person is doing or saying things that you feel would hurt him with other people too, and you genuinely want to help him see that, stick to the facts. Make as few assumptions as possible about his motives or plans. Stick to what he does and how it affects you and may affect others. For example, "On multiple occasions, you've screamed loudly at me when I pointed out a problem. Disagreeing is one thing - screaming is quite another." In that case, your rejecting him may be the best thing that ever happened to him.

  • In that kind of situation, whenever possible (as opposed to, say, a black eye or something equally serious), give him a fair chance to mend his ways, including a specific heads-up about the particular problem behaviors, before severing the relationship.

  • Stick to the situation at hand. If you don't want to date or befriend someone, that's one thing - keep it at that. Forget any hypothetical scenarios involving, say, his drowning and your being the only person around. Hopefully you would throw him a life preserver instead of an anvil anyway, if it came to that. Also, his ancestors, pets and other associates probably did not cause you any problems and certainly needn't be referenced or otherwise involved.

Especially in sticky situations, honesty (generally) is the best policy. People most often don't want to be honest because they're afraid of hurting the other person. As we've seen, honesty - without brutality - is most often the kindest course of action not only for you, but also the person you're rejecting.

What do you think?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

"Your Dad Arrested Me Last Night!"

Here's a quick SlateV interview with Shauna Peck, a (presumably NT) daughter of an Aspie. As she described him, he - like many Aspies - tends to see the world in black-and-white terms. He was a state trooper - and he issued many more tickets than the average trooper.

The average NT trooper would presumably have let many incidents go due to extenuating circumstances or a simple desire not to make trouble for someone who obviously (to the NT trooper, that is) wasn't a hardened criminal. For that matter, if I were a state trooper or a similar official, I could see myself ticketing or arresting many people whom others would let go.

In my case, the way I was treated by some of my classmates and even a few teachers has left me with a burning desire to see wrongdoers punished. Fairly treated and given all the due process possible, to be sure - but if found guilty, punished. Now, would my history have made them feel better about it if they felt I should have overlooked their peccadillos?

Law enforcement work may appeal to some Aspies, who like the structure and the legal and enforcement parts of it. It may also give them a feeling of power, which may have become precious to them after years of bullying by other children - not to mention people in authority too.

Getting back to Ms. Peck: while she was in high school, occasionally she would run into a classmate whom her father had recently arrested, and she found it humiliating.

The Aspie was also an abusive husband and father (to the point that the neighbors knew about it), and Ms. Peck hated him...until she was able to write him a Father's Day letter forgiving him. He received the letter, but they never really discussed it - he may not have been able to grasp many of the emotional implications. But their relationship improved for her after that.

This man was darned lucky not to lose his job or his family.

Here's a cautionary tale. If you're an Aspie and you have responsible work and/or a family, you're ahead of the game already. Do whatever you can to make sure your weaknesses don't alienate the people you depend on for your daily bread, respectability, companionship and other important things. Don't mistake your rice bowl for a chamberpot, in other words.

(The video starts with a brief ad and then goes to the interview itself. The entire video is completely SFW. Disclaimer: Emily works part-time for one of the component parts of the conglomerate that includes Slate, but she has nothing to do with this or any other SlateV video.)

What do you think?

Monday, March 2, 2009

A Trunk-ful of Tough Truths

Penelope Trunk is a hard-hitting career advisor, and she really seems to know her stuff.

Including why good social skills are vital in both the boardroom and the bedroom. Ms. Trunk's young son is brilliant - and an Aspie. And she knows her son - with all his brains - needs social skills and other interventions if he's to have even close to the same chance at a happy work and personal life that his less-well-endowed NT peers will likely enjoy as a matter of course.

Ms. Trunk has a wake-up call - "Stop thinking you'll get by on your high I.Q" - for smart Aspies and their families. She doesn't mince words for those of us who, after all, don't get hints. A representative sample of her approach:

Social skills are [one of the most important factors] in whether you succeed or fail. I link to this research all the time, but frankly, if you need research to understand that the people who are best at office politics succeed at the office, then you are missing basic social cues already.


Notice that most [skills needed in the workplace] are independent of intelligence. Smart is [not] an endgame...and the standard for ability to work well with others is only getting higher, not lower: Generation Y is more team-oriented than prior generations.


I'm going to tell you something harsh: If your career is stuck, it's probably because of poor social skills.


Hold it. Did you just say, "If people don't like me maybe it's their fault!" Forget it. People with good social skills can get along with just about everyone.


[People who] have poor social skills will not likely find a place for themselves. We can talk about playing to people's strengths, but that only works to the degree that companies have a need for those strengths.

The super smart are generally number crunchers and fact-mavens. But a computer can do that today. And any problem that needs solving in a room with the door closed does not need to be solved for high U.S. salaries - the job can be offshored. I think it's a big mistake to think that whatever our strengths and weaknesses are there is a place for us in this world. It just isn't true.

Most of us need to be able to hold down a job that supports us. And we all want to be in a healthy, intimate relationship with someone. Not all strengths and weaknesses allow for this, and if they don't, we need to change.

Some of us need to change a bit in order to fit in. It's the truth about being inherently social beings.


(All hyperlinks in original.)

In short: If you're an Aspie or autist - or for whatever other reason just have difficulty getting along with people - your problem - and the best person to solve it - are both right in the mirror.

It may not be fair that we have such difficulty with things like reading facial expressions or tones of voice or handling multiple stimuli at once, that many people have what we may consider to be illogical, petty or even stupid criteria for judging people or that the world is based so much on personal relationships. But that's the way it is, and it's not going to change - at least in the ways we might like - anytime soon, if ever.

We need to deal with the fit between ourselves and the world; if the hole is round, then it's not "hip to be square".

Also check out Ms. Trunk's "Dealing with social awkwardness at work: Insights from the autism community" - especially if you're no longer in school and thus don't automatically have teachers and experts to look after you - and her above-hyperlinked "Social skills matter more than ever, so here's how to get them."

What do you think?