The whole idea of being defensive both plagues and confuses me. From a very early age, during discussions or disagreements with my older sister, she will come out with, “Geez, you don’t have to be defensive! You always get defensive!” And, honestly, it’s meaningless to me. Am I defending what I think is right? Well, yes, but why wouldn’t I, when I believe what the other person is saying is wrong? Why is it defensiveness and not just disagreement?
One issue is that I tend to appear more socially in-tune than I really am. If I’m feeling decently (if I’m not, I’m extremely withdrawn and quiet), I’m bubbly and enthusiastic and full enough of spunk and gumption to share with any who might need to borrow some. I think the total joy for everything that is life tends to make me seem younger; people often ask what grade I’m in, and I’m 26! I am, truly, introverted. I always liked the explanation that extroverts spend time with others so that they can be alone, while introverts spend time alone so that they can be with others, and I totally and completely fall into the latter category. But, being introverted doesn’t mean that I don’t get really super excited about all sorts of stuff! So, the desire to connect and passion for certain subjects tends to give others the idea that I have a good idea of what’s going on in social terms.
Except, I don’t.
I do a lot of checking before I speak. Today, while we moved my stuff to my new apartment from the nursing home where I’ve been since March of 2013, I asked about 52,000 times what I could do to help. Was I in the way? Could I help? How should I help? Am I being lazy? I often get blamed for “just standing there” but the truth is that I am often oblivious that others are doing something with which I can help. My spirit is ready and willing to serve others, but I lack the ability to understand the social setting and how I can be a part of what I don’t even know is going on.
I also interrupt quite horribly. Listen, I totally get that the tempo of conversation is as natural to you ask putting one foot in front of the other. But just like some people have to work for every single step and go through a huge mental process of planning each footfall, so does conversation feel unnatural to me. I have no idea when you’re finished, when you’re taking a breath, when you’re pausing to think… no idea at all.
So, when it comes to defensiveness, I can’t seem to find a pattern or an algorithm to figure out what is being defensive and what is disagreeing.
In the car last week, my sister was saying that the people in the small town where my nursing home is probably weren’t too thrilled when they cut down 12,000 acres of apple orchards and built a massive housing complex with million-dollar homes. I totally agree. Then, she said that the homes here were “like $100,000,” and, well, that’s where I got stuck, cause I’ve been all throughout all the streets of this town and I’ve seen maybe one home of that price. Most are really nice. My understanding of defensiveness to that point was something like “taking personal offense to a nonpersonal attack,” and when she accused me of “being defensive” about the housing, I got lost all over again… because I really don’t give a darn about the price of homes. Like, at all. I’ve thought about house prices all of three times in my life, so, why on earth would I act defensive about this? I was arguing about a fact, and I don’t see what good it would do not to argue for what is true.
It’s totally not an attack on my sister whose good-heartedness far outweighs any nitpicking; this is just the freshest specific example, in which my sister happened to have a role, of a lifetime of not getting it. It’s confusing. Social stuff is CONFUSING. What is all the more confusing is that, among the autistic community, I never get any of the flack I get from (some) typical people. All autistic people do not socialize in the same way, believe you me. We bonk into each other all the time with unique styles and misunderstandings. But, we either say, “Can you not do that?” and the other person, with no offense taken, says, “Oh, sure,” or we just let it happen and don’t really attach any emotion or frustration to the other person’s oddity. I have friends who will say hi to me 7 times in 24 hours without ever really wanting to talk further, and friends who don’t see the need for the niceties of chatting, and friends who chat for a while then disappear then jump back in where we left off two hours later. Are these my style? Nope. Does it matter to me or annoy me that it’s theirs? Not at all.
One thing I realize clearly is that I have to be careful not to put being right ahead of being kind. I always say that, like any good spectrumite, my favorite word is “actually….” Sometimes, in my quest for correcting wrongs, whether factual or matters of justice, I accidentally lose sight of the fact that a person is behind it. And, when I hurt my friends, I feel really bad. I tend to think that, since I would certainly want to know if I created a Facebook page with a grammatical error in its name, that the makers of the page would want to know that, too. But, sometimes they don’t, or sometimes they feel really bad when they find out, or sometimes, it turns out that they’re well aware but Facebook makes it so they can’t go back and change it and now they’re stuck. If the page is a one-person mission to spread joy to kids with illnesses by sending handmade cards, well, maybe I should keep my grammar editing to myself, because, maybe, just maybe, there are things more important that being right… even when it comes to grammar!
Don’t get me wrong, though. I’ll still twitch when I see a possessive where a plural noun should be.
But maybe the NT social police could meet me halfway. I’ll let your crappy grammar slide, if you agree to take the words “defensive” and “interrupt” out of your vocabulary, because telling me eight times in a day that I’ve interrupted, that I always interrupt, that I have to stop, that it’s rude… really just makes me feel bad about myself, kind of like it would make you feel bad if I edited every email you sent me or cut you off every time you mispronounced a word, ended a sentence in a preposition, or incorrectly attribute a fact to a source.
Cause, actually… that would be good for both of us!