A RETURN TO CIVILITY
I became a regular reader of ballastexistenz a couple of months back after I arrogantly pointed out that I included links on this page to blogs expressing various points of view in the autism world. Anne Bevington very sagely pointed out that all of the blogs I linked to were by parents, with none by adult autistics. So I went on a search to find some good ones, and I did. The best of them is by ballastexistenz. It’s not always a feel-good read, and I sometimes see things that strike a little too close to home. But she writes very well ⎯ a compliment that would be the same if she was neurotypical by the way ⎯ and I like a good challenge to my psyche and opinions every now and then.
In any event, a couple of weeks ago, ballastexistenz posted a piece entitled Pretty social illusions that struck a nerve:
There’s a group of people out there, fairly amorphous to me because I do not keep track easily of who is who (so I hope I don't get asked who it is), who seem to believe something like this: “If we are nice to autistic people, and we make appropriate ritualized gestures of ‘respect’ towards autistic people, and we get along socially with autistic people, and we meet them halfway, then it does not matter what we do to our children in the name of helping them, because our children are all individuals, and we are meeting these autistic adults halfway by deigning to at least talk to them.”
Some autistic people have been okay with this, encouraged by it. I have been mostly mystified by it.
There are some who have accused me from time to time of using politeness as a shield to hide behind as I spread a message of hate. So my first thought, in light of what was going on over here at the time, was that this was directed at me. Then I heard the voice of Carly Simon in my head, singing “You’re so vain; I bet you think this song is about you . . .”
Regardless of who ballastexistenz was referring to, her words prompted me to examine my actions and motives. The message I got from her post (and I would encourage anyone who is interested to read it as anybody’s interpretation of another’s words cannot perfectly capture the intent), is that some of us use the trappings of manners and respect to hide a dangerous mindset. I hope that’s not the impression I give anyone, although some comments to my pasts posts indicate that impression is out there.
I’m still relatively new to the world of autism, and I’m trying to find some answers. Part of my process for doing that is to talk with people ⎯ including people who agree with me and those who don’t. But I cannot listen to what someone else is saying if I’m shouting. So I try to maintain an air of civility.
I have written before of the lessons of respect I learned from my father. He also taught my brothers and me lessons in manners. For him, and for us, politeness was never a veneer to hide ugliness. Politeness was, and is a means of showing respect.
As an attorney, I am guided by certain rules when making an argument. For example, when I write an appellate brief, I must comply with the following:
The language used in the brief shall be courteous, free from vile, obscene, obnoxious, or offensive expressions, and free from insulting, abusive, discourteous, or irrelevant matter or criticism of any person, class of persons or association of persons, or any court, or judge or other officer thereof, or of any institution. Any violation of this Rule shall subject the author, or authors, of the brief to punishment for contempt of court, and to having such brief returned.
Uniform Rule 2-12.4, Louisiana Courts of Appeal
The reason for that rule is not just to keep things pleasant. The idea is to keep everyone’s focus on what really matters.
Yes, I tend to be polite and respectful. It’s how I was raised; it’s a part of who I am. Respect, however, does not mean an agreement with everything someone else says. Respect means understanding that someone else just might be correct about something. So I try to listen. Sometimes, I go back and reexamine an issue. Lately, I’ve been reexamining some of the things that were said a couple of weeks ago, and who knows where that will lead.
Civility and respect are not silly veneers intended to mask anything deceitful. They are important means of helping to build a better society in a pluralistic ⎯ a diverse, if you will ⎯ world. These are the lessons I try to pass on to my children.