the power of attention
2 days ago, I was finally ready to get Dragon [dictation software] working again. But the nice new headset Spouse bought me last spring (that I put away, for safekeeping, until I was ready to deal with it) is missing. Grrr.
On Twitter, I follow a lot of autistic people, people with other sorts of disabilities, people who are part of underrepresented minorities. They all have very definite ideas about what the rest of the world needs to be doing to accommodate them. How the rest of the world needs to be treating them, talking to and about them. Thinking about them.
I’ve been feeling besieged reading all these things (even when I share some of the writer’s particular challenges).
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I don’t have Definite Ideas About What Other People Should Do (or Should Not Do)… pretty much at all. “Other People” is a floppy, immense category, comprising billions of human beings, living in hundreds of thousands of contexts and cultures. Who am I to tell them how to do… anything?
Why would I suppose they’re going to listen to me, a random stranger on the Internet?
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Growing up, Angry People who Wanted Me to Do (or Not Do) Something tended to be people who held enormous amounts of power over me. I had to figure out ways to either (a) accommodate what they wanted from me, (b) appear to accommodate them (while secretly doing something else), or (c) openly defy them, and reap the whirlwind. I chose (b) as often as I could. On matters of conscience, I chose (c)… and was traumatized. Repeatedly.
That leaves (a).
“What they wanted”… never made a lick of sense to me. So… I couldn’t predict what new demands were likely to be. Doing things piecemeal, as they arose, required huge outlays of energy. And was massively stressful.
Like a ‘god of the gaps’, I fitted my personality into the gaps of where no demands were being made.
Luckily for me, I tended towards kindness and These People With Power could not perceive kindness. So I could stay kind. It wouldn’t ever be recognized, never mind lauded, but… it wasn’t punished, it wasn’t persecuted.
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Nowadays, my gaps, my wide open spaces to swim through and make my own (moral) decisions about, are being invaded by all sorts of people. “All Good People Do X (or Don’t Do Y)”… doesn’t allow for wiggle room, for making up your own mind. Doesn’t make space for realizing, and insights, and ‘oh hey, I could change that! And then what would happen?’
All my power to decide, to do, to experiment, to realize… is taken away, if I just follow Angry People With Very Definite Ideas About What Everyone Should Be Doing.
I like experimenting. That’s the most creative thing I do, the most consistently. It’s how I get acquainted with my environment, figure out what context (habitat?) I’m occupying, how I can better ‘fit’ within it.
Also, it’s impossible to make everyone happy.
Even if I somehow walked the crooked line of My Behavior Perfectly Toes The Line Everyone Else Insists Upon… there’s all those other billions of human beings who aren’t. So the Angry Demands will continue.
If I’m doing exactly what other people want, then it’s, “you don’t get a cookie! This is the bare minimum of Acceptable Human Behavior! Everyone should be doing this already!”
As if I’m somehow responsible for Everyone Else.
And if I’m not doing exactly what other people want, I’m an unevolved jerk. Who needs to change, stat.
= = =
Why am I always wrong?
Or maybe, why other people seem to need Angry People, Yelling, to figure out what their own morals should be? Or do they just do that (yelling, angry), but they don’t personally respond to it? I don’t know.
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What if I already have my own moral code, that I laboriously developed, through a lot of experimenting, thinking, reading, introspecting, all that? What if I agree with what you’re yelling about, but I didn’t adopt because you yelled — I was already doing it, for my own reasons?
When do I receive credit for… anything?
I guess I don’t.
I guess Doing the Right Thing, For The Right Reasons, is its own reward? But if that’s so, what’s the motivation for Changing How I Think because People Were Yelling At Me?
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I guess I also don’t understand where that expression about “getting a cookie” (or not getting a cookie) comes from. If/when I’ve received attention for an action, it’s been nothing like a cookie. It’s often been… insults, yelling, triggers, trauma.
I’ve also been ignored.
I’ve also gotten puzzled looks, and muttering. Often, changing the subject as soon as possible.
Where are these cookies? Who receives them? I like cookies.
But I wouldn’t pick moral actions just so I could receive a cookie, from someone who probably wasn’t paying any attention to me anyway.
I still feel like I’ve got a blindspot here.