|The Perils of Theoretical Basketball|
|Life on Earth|
Life on Earth
I wish I could have been given some inside information that would have helped me to get along better in the slippery social world that you earthlings inhabit. (For those of you who don't get the reference, it has been said that autistic people often feel like visitors from another planet, busily trying to acclimatize themselves to these strange earth customs). Anyway, for most people, these gems of wisdom that I'm about to discuss are apparently truisms, not mysterious secrets; however, they have been incomprehensible to me for years. Even though I have finally started piecing them together intellectually, I still have much trouble putting them into practice. I mull over these enigmatic secrets in the same way that some of you might contemplate the profound mysteries of religion and philosophy. Bear with me while I share a few of my "discoveries" about life on planet earth with you, things that many of you have probably known intuitively since grade school:
It's Useful to Have Friends. First of all, it brings joy and comfort to associate with individuals who share, at least to some degree, your outlook on the world. Having friends helps to alleviate loneliness. Also, belonging to a social circle increases your chances of meeting potential partners, or so I've heard. However, most importantly, I have learned that if you have no friends, people infer all sorts of nasty things about you and react accordingly by pushing you away.
It's Important to Feel Good About Yourself and the World. One of my therapists once gave me a great quote: "Optimists and pessimists are both right about half the time, but optimists have more fun." I am not an optimist by nature, and I continue to struggle with this one. However, I have come to believe that the crucial difference between the good days and bad days lies not in the lack of cloud cover in your outer world, but the amount of sunshine in your inner world. So I actively try to cultivate good days by lighting the lamp in my own mind and letting it shine outward from there. It's not easy to do.
Confidence Is the Expressway to Success. If you are going to develop one trait and only one trait, this is the one. Apparently, one "projects" confidence-or not-and most people can somehow sense the degree of confidence a person has in themselves. And, once this level of confidence has been assessed, you are treated accordingly, particularly in certain types of social situations. As far as I have been able to tell, confidence is a universally attractive, highly desirable trait. Or, as one therapist told me quite succinctly once, "neediness is not a virtue." For me, confidence is still an elusive quality. I've flirted with it now and then, but I don't know how to make it stick around and work for me.
First Impressions and Appearances Count, Big Time. As a child, I had no idea that the clothes I wore made any kind of statement whatsoever. I now know that my clothing choices definitely made a statement, and unfortunately for me, it was the wrong one. I am now learning how to dress in a way that is both socially acceptable and an expression of my emerging individual style. I've learned that dress and appearance convey many things: group membership, attitudes, social class, personality, and so on. To make matters even more complex, dress and appearance can also interact with the confidence thing. A friend of mine once told me that truly confident people can get away with wearing anything. Armed with all this information, I still don't quite know how I want to dress at times, but at least now I understand why the fashion industry exists.
Life Is Ultimately Practice, Not Theory. As a person who tries to make sense of the world through the fanciful constructions of his own mind, this one hit me particularly hard. I have come to realize that often there are no clear, linear pathways from A to B to C, and certainly none that can be taken via the mind only. There's no step-by-step instruction manual for life and particularly relationships. One has to get out there and do in order to make any progress. It's no accident that, in my unending quest to figure out how to successfully interact with earth people, I majored in psychology and sociology in university. I learned a lot about these academic disciplines, and much of it was quite interesting, but I must confess that I didn't learn a lot about life on earth and my place in it, which, after all, was my goal. This high comfort level with theory and utter bewilderment with practice has been an underlying theme in my life. Allow me to illustrate using a sports metaphor. It's as if, for years, I've been trying to learn how to play basketball by poring over endless volumes about the rules and strategy of the game. I became quite good at theoretical basketball, but until I stepped on the court, dribbled the ball, and took my first shot, I did not even begin to learn how to play basketball. At some point, you have to put down the books and get out there and play. This is easier said than done for me, and I continually have to re-focus my efforts in this direction. I still think too much and do too little. After all these years, I feel like I remain on the sidelines, watching earthlings play basketball, too afraid and unsure to participate myself.
Now that I've taken you on this exciting voyage of discovery-wasn't that fun-let me bring you back to the whole point of this exercise: These are the kinds of things that I wish I had learned, formally or otherwise, in school. I stumbled through my youth not knowing any of this. It is my wish that all young people on the autism spectrum could learn to apply insights such as these, as well as many others that I'm quite sure I haven't yet discovered.”