I live in a world where we question and challenge basic assumptions all around us, every day, simply by existing. We challenge what people think it means to be human, to be intelligent, to be functional, to be autistic, to be "normal", to be happy. We make these challenges because it becomes quickly obvious that our lives and experiences are different from what appears to be a vast majority of how those around us think, feel, and experience the world around them.
I have lived my life this way.
When I was very young, I figured out very quickly that I understood the world, other people, and even space differently than other people around me. It has been a constant struggle to relate and connect, because I relate differently, I make connections others don't make, I live is a network of connections and assumptions others don't have. As I grew, I found it wonderful to discover other people who, though they didn't see the world like me, still saw it in ways that were unique, interesting, and diverse. This may make for a lot of difficulty trying to connect with other mommies at the park (I'm not fond of Titanic and have no interest in reading Shades of Gray), but it makes for a wonderful world of friends and experiences- never a dull moment, always something new to think about, even as they fade in and out, coming into focus and out again, spinning like stars in the void, little nestlings, oases if you will, in a vast press of banality.
I may not have many friends, but each of them, I assure you, is a jewel, in their own fascinating facets and flaws. We hang together like Indra's Net, a constant glint and dazzle of cosmic gems. Meeting a new friend is always a wonder for me, an earthshaking event to be marveled at, wondered about, explored, and relished.
Some years ago, I stopped by a friend's house; I was bringing her something, and just stopped for delivery. She was having a little book club in her house. They were discussing a book I had never heard of, but I was invited to stay because it had some connections to South Asia and my friend knew I am a South Asianist. I would say I was one of the few neighborhood women who hadn't been included in the club invitation- which for me is par for the course, really.
The scene they were describing was, to me, almost surreal. A man had kidnapped a kid and apparently forced the child to be some kind of sex slave (no, really) and had somehow managed to injure the child and thus put in the hospital (people read these books?), where he was now lamenting that bad things always happened to him (not the kid, to himself), and how terrible and miserable it was that the kid was injured, because now he might have to go without his little sex buddy for a while.
They got about halfway through this description, and had started on how was feeling badly, and I thought sure this was going to be a moment when he realized what a misery he was making this kid's life and then do something right for a change- but no, the character was a complete and utter selfish jerk who could only think about himself, crying over how he was being inconvenienced.
Then came the part I found really surreal. All of these women started chiming in about how they related to this character, and didn't we all feel this way when things happened? Everybody thinks of their own inconvenience first, their own self first, after all...
And I knew, instantly, that I had nothing in common with these women.
The flippant attitude, the idea that all people are, by nature, selfish and mean, and that everybody feels... well, the way they do- there is something inherently arrogant in that. I won't judge them based on a single conversation about a single character in a single book, either- the scene I describe is not absolute in who in that room I ultimately liked or disliked or whatever. It was just a keen, and somewhat embarrassing, reminder of differences, and the fact that other assume everyone else is like themselves.
Which brings us to this week.
There have been a lot of broad brushing, painful, ugly generalizations running rampant over the internet, as buttons have been pushed and surprises popped upon us. I get tired of reading them. Whenever I see those catch phrases, they make me cringe, make me somehow angry that everyone assumes all people see things the same way: "Just admit it..." "You know you do..." "We all do/feel/know it..." The article that assumes all white people get defensive when they see a black kid in a hoodie at night. The article that assumes at all autistic people want to be "cured." The article that assumes all men want to have a affair. The article that assumes everybody thinks of themselves first.
I now put out my own broad-brushing, painful, ugly assumption: people who assume everyone is a selfish, selfist jackass tend to be selfish, selfist jackasses.
And I don't like being told I am a selfish, selfist jackass by people who are selfish, selfist jackasses, and know nothing about me, or how I see the world, or what I experience through my own senses and thoughts and emotions. Studying culture and society and how they color and influence experience and understanding is interesting and fascinating- but even more so are those who stand out, who help us question what is cultural and what is not, and what it really means to live and to be.
Which brings me back to my friends, my family, and my sons, and why I find them fascinating and wonderful. Keep thinking, folks. Keep questioning. Keep wondering.
Challenge those assumptions.