My trouble with people

I’ve been open about being a misanthrope but what is it about humankind that troubles me? There are many. This post refers to one of them: people who appear inconsistent and who don’t seem to practice what they preach. I use the words ‘appear’ and ‘seem’ because I don’t mean people who intentionally and purposefully cheat or people who are hypocrites, I mean ordinary people like you and me, regardless bad or good, evil or kind. And when I refer to the humankind, I refer to people in general and that also includes myself so when I appear to be critical of certain behaviour, I am also referring to myself.

I think to certain extent, one has to care enough about the humankind and interested in human nature to become a misanthrope for I don’t just dislike people without a reason. And how might that be related to being autistic? One doesn’t have to be autistic to be a misanthrope. In my case, my deficits in social communication and interaction, in addition to my fixation and interest in the philosophy of life, and the need to maintain an order in life probably exacerbate the problem. One thing is certain though, it is not due to my lack of empathy that leads me to become a misanthrope. If anything, it is due to me trying so hard to picture myself in someone else’s position. It is not a lack of empathy, it is wanting to empathise so much in situations where the context is not clearly spelled out, everyday situations where most people would probably not even think twice about exercising their empathy and simply take things their way or for granted.

People on the spectrum are generally known to prefer routine to spontaneity. The need for control and predictability help to reduce anxiety and maintain order in life, which would otherwise seem meaningless and confusing.

“The development of routines and rituals can be a sign of anxiety and we know that children with Asperger’s syndrome have a propensity to be anxious, but another reason for the development of routines can be weak central coherence, i.e. difficulty determining the patterns or coherence in everyday life…The following quotation illustrates why there is a determination to create order and certainty:

‘Reality to an autistic person is a confusing, interacting mass of events, people, places, sounds and sights. There seem to be no clear boundaries, order or meaning to anything. A large part of my life is spent just trying to work out the pattern behind everything. Set routines, times, particular routines and rituals all help to get order into an unbearably chaotic life. (Jolliffe et al. 1992)’ ” 

Tony Attwood, The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome [bold my emphasis]

I’m baffled by human behaviour, a large part of my life is spent trying to work out the meaning and obsessing over the rationale and motives behind a person’s words, behaviour and conduct. Unfortunately, this might not be the best interest to pursue as people are the most complicated creature on earth and people skills are not my strengths. I get very perturbed with inconsistencies and confused when people send mixed messages about their behaviour and character. I can’t control these impulses to overthink and sometimes the best way to deal with it altogether is to remove myself away from the source of confusion even if that entails disconnecting myself and burning bridges.

One of the major source of confusion stems from people who don’t seem to practice what they preach and me trying to work out the meaning and context of the situation in an attempt to justify and find an explanation for the person’s conduct. To list a few examples, I once helped to organise a seminar in the university on freedom of information and the co-organizer, which was a corporate body wanted to make it a closed-door event (“What an irony to talk about freedom of information if you didn’t intend to open the event to the public? What were they thinking?”) or to talk about environment conservation in one minute and the next, throwing away non-confidential paper with an unused blank side (“Why did you just throw that into the bin? I could have used it as a recycled paper.”) And then there are the people who agreed with me that it is so annoying to be out in the crowd but who continuously spend most of their time outdoors with the crowd (“If that really annoys you so much, why do you still commit yourself to various social engagements?”) or back in school days, classmates who claimed they had not spend much time preparing for a test but always ended up getting high marks for it (“Are they simply intelligent or lucky or lying about not preparing for the test?”). In the context of spreading autism awareness, a post opens up for people with autism and one of the job requirements read individuals with confident speaking skills. While I’m not dismissing that individuals on the spectrum cannot be a confident speaker (I believe they can be and indeed there are), it is not a term which one with autism would tend to associate and identify with, I would have been more careful and sensitive to the wording I choose). In addition, how many conferences, seminars and events on autism actually catered to the sensory needs of autistic individuals? I attended a seminar last week which had individuals with special needs attending. I wasn’t sure if there was anyone else with autism or sensory sensitivity issues amongst the participants but I felt bad about the lack of air ventilation in the room and how constrained the space was with seats narrowly spaced out. I’m not blaming the administrators who organise these events, having been one myself, I know how stressful and thankless job this is. However, it would have been nice if some day, autism and neuro-diversity awareness reach a stage where inclusiveness is instinctively built into everyone’s mind and we start making our structured environment a better place for individuals with special needs.

When inconsistencies like these happen, I find it hard to reconcile. It is as though someone is telling me “I like you” on Monday, “I dislike you” on Tuesday and then “I like you again” the day after. What happen that changes? Is it something I’ve done? Are they just having a bad day? This is made trickier by the fact that all of these questions I have take place only in my mind, I don’t ‘confront’ people with their choices. Even though my troubles stem from the conduct of others, I am mindful that this is my personal flaw and private obsession and that I would only be a nuisance to others if I start to probe each individual regarding their motives and enquiring into their state of mind. Besides, there is no point in further communication since I’m not interested in establishing a connection or relationship with the person per se, I am only interested in discerning the pattern and rationale underlying individual motives in order to make sense of the situation. Without knowing what actually goes on in the other’s mind, I have to pick out the pieces myself, coming up with different scenarios, reminding myself of the iceberg theory, giving the other the benefit of doubt, putting myself in their shoes ~ all of which in the name of making sense of things.

I’m not accusing the people above of being fake. I’m merely illustrating what it is about human interaction that unsettles me with my obsession in trying to form a coherent pattern to explain situations. Put it the other way round, I’m aware that I, too, am prone to ‘change’ and appear inconsistent or unreasonable to others. I also have the tendency to burn bridges so people might mistake that as an overnight change in behaviour and not understand why I would suddenly ‘disappear’ from their circle of network. If I am as private as I claim to be, what am I doing writing these posts and baring it all? The difference of course is that I know why I’m doing it so I can explain my apparent inconsistencies in behaviour.

If people can understand my desire to make sense of life, then they might start to understand why it is that I choose to restrict human interaction. I wouldn’t be able to keep my own affairs in order if I spend time obsessing about all the inconsistencies displaying in everyday life. This is one reason I love going into the wild and walking in nature. Only then, can I relieve myself of my fixation with what is going on in other people’s mind and pay more attention to myself.

“People with Asperger’s syndrome perceive the world differently from everyone else. They find the rest of us strange and baffling. Why don’t we say what we mean? Why do we say so many things we don’t mean? Why do we so often make trivial remarks that mean nothing at all? … Why do we tolerate such a confusion of sensations of light, sound, smell, touch and taste without getting to screaming pitch? Why do we care about social hierarchies – why not treat everyone in the same way? Why do we have such complicated emotional relationships? …

… The way they [people with Asperger’s syndrome] perceive the world makes sense to them and has some aspects that are admirable, but it often brings them into conflict with conventional (that is, majority) ways of thinking, feeling and behaving. They cannot change and many do not want to. However, they do need help in finding ways of adapting to the world as it is in order to use their special skills constructively, to engage in their special interests without coming into conflict with others…”

Lorna Wing, Preface to Tony Attwood’s  Asperger’s Syndrome: A Guide for Parents and Professionals


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