Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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Winter is not coming

It’s the time of the year when my inbox gets swamped by emails promoting fall sales and advice to prepare and stock up for winter. There seems to be an assumption by almost every advertiser that either:

  1. the seasons are the same world over, or
  2. there is nothing south of the equator.

I appreciate that around 57% of the world’s population live north of the Tropic of Cancer where it is indeed autumn (or fall if you prefer). I don’t begrudge you receiving promotional material reflecting the season.

However, there’s a little over 40% of the world’s population that live between the tropic of Cancer than the Tropic of Capricorn for whom there are no seasons. For them, seasonal advertising is more or less irrelevant.

That leaves a little under 3% of the world’s population who live south of the Tropic of Capricorn and for whom the seasons are the polar opposite of what it is for a majority of this planet’s human population. Seasonal advertising is always either six months too early or six months too late.

Consider this: There are approximately twice as many people who belong to the LGBTQ+ community as there are who live south of the Tropic of Capricorn. We have our rights too. And this includes appropriate seasonal advertising.


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Teaching religion

It’s been a while since I touched on topics of a religious nature, so here’s one that’s been on the back burner for a while.

I believe the teaching of religion is important. Not because it teaches what is right or wrong, good or bad, but because it teaches us a lot about the evolution of human thought and morality.

It can help us understand that good and evil, are concepts that change over time. It can help us understand why we value some ideas today that had little value in the past and why we have devalued some ideas that were regarded as sacred in earlier periods. Whether we like it or not, religion has played a significant role in how we have come to understand the world.

To a great many anti-theists and non-theists, bringing these two words, “teaching religion” is like a red rag to a bull. You can almost see their nostrils flare on hearing those words. But does it need to be that way?

For myself, religion is a means by which I can understand what I experience. It nourishes me in a way that other experiences of being human do not. I acknowledge that this is my experience, and what I experience is unique to me. If you wish to call it something else other than religion, that’s fine by me. 

The following video, and the transcript below describe what teaching religion means from a Quaker perspective. Whether or not you agree with the teaching of religion at all, it is not “indoctrinating people in the ‘correct’ way to think in terms of the cosmology or the meta-narratives of religious philosophy”.  Your feedback after watching the video or reading the transcription is very welcome.

Transcript

I am very clear in a public context that I never say, “I teach religion,” because I have learned in my life that that’s a conversation stopper. For most people that I encounter in the United States of America, they hear that as, “I participate in indoctrinating people in the correct way to think in terms of the cosmology or the metanarratives of religious philosophy.”

It couldn’t be further from the truth at a Friends school. That is not what we do. In fact, when I say to people, “I teach religions,” they say, “Oh wow, that sounds cool!” I’ve heard people say when I say I teach world religions, they say, “Oh that was my favorite subject in college, I loved that,” and it’s a conversation opener. And that’s what we’re doing at Friends schools, we’re opening the conversation, we’re not closing it.

For me as a teacher, my goal is to create an energized, safe space for students to get in touch with their own ideas but to encounter the ideas of other people in the room and other people from other times and other spaces, either through a text or through the internet or some other device that I share and I want them to be alive in the present with what’s real for them. 

Quaker Ethos

Quakerism is a wonderful container to have conversations around the edges. I often say that Quakerism is a great religion for people who are entering religion for the first time, or for people who are leaving religion. So we have a lot of people who are excited about Quakerism because they’ve thought of themselves as agnostics or atheists and then they encounter this tradition that permits that possibility but also invites exploration of the mysterious and doesn’t block out experiences of transformational or paranormal possibilities.

And then there are other people who have come from very doctrinal or creedal religions and they have felt oppressed or controlled by those traditions and Quakerism gives them freedom. Great, welcome!

So we have a tremendous mix within our community, and that’s a mix that we also have in our classrooms because at Friends schools, the majority of people in the room are not Quaker, and there is no expectation that they should be—and more often than not, the teacher is not Quaker either. So what we’re doing is we’re having a conversation that is possible because of the Quaker ethos of acceptance, tolerance, universality, and openness to the unknown.

Creating Safe Discursive Space

This is not a situation where there’s a catechism or a planned method of instruction so that you get the right answers or the right information. It’s quite opposite, actually. What we are doing at a Friends school is we are creating safe, discursive space for people to ask into the sublime, into the mystical, into the beautiful, into the mysterious. And it turns out that everyone has had that experience.

We’ve all had dreams. Are dreams real? Are dreams religious? Are some dreams religious? Are no dreams religious? In fact, what does it mean to be a person who is in touch with a dimension of reality that we can’t measure or see? It means to be fully alive, so let’s talk about that.

Exploring our Identities

And at the same time, I am very happy bringing in the language of scientific cosmology and what some people call atheism because that belongs in the room as well. So when I tell them that when I was young, I identified as both Quaker and atheist, I see their eyes get wide, like, “Oh that’s a thing? Like, I’m allowed to be that?” Sure! What are you, what’s your truth?

And then suddenly I hear a polyphony of different identities around the room and suddenly now we’re talking, because, “Well I’m Jewish and Christian?” Well, theologically speaking, how can you be both? Well it doesn’t matter, let’s not interrogate that question. Let’s honor that that’s your truth and let’s talk about what that means to you. Which stories speak to you? Which parts of those traditions have meaning for you personally, and why is it important that you honor both of those traditions when you were asked what religion are you? And let’s welcome all of that and stumble forward.

I want students to leave my class saying “That was fun!,” because it is fun actually. It’s fun to realize that you are having some dimension of reality that you know is true validated by somebody else and then you find out that there are rich traditions that offer different narratives, different names, different colors, different stories, different energies to exactly the stories that you personally have had. Wow, that’s cool!

Now turn to the person next to you and talk about your experience and listen to their experience and notice if there are similarities or differences. And now let’s come back to what we were talking about. Maybe we have a text from the Bhagavad Gita that says something really profound from a couple thousand years ago, and now let’s look at the Gospel of John, or the Gospel of Thomas even! Or maybe we’ll look at something from Deuteronomy and say, “How does this compare to your dream? What do you love?”

 


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Why I’m Not a High-Functioning Autistic

Like most autistics, I dislike functioning labels. These are terms neurotypical people use to describe how an autistic person appears to be relative to a typical non-autistic person from a non-autistic perspective.

I have been described as “high functioning” because I had a successful career of 35 years with the same multinational I.T. company and because I have been married for 48 years and have two wonderful children. Yet my attempts at socialising can at best be described as “tries hard, but fails to implement the required rules. Grade: F”.

My social skills are lacking. I can’t do small talk; I avoid eye contact and touching of any sort unless I know someone very well; I can’t read body language and that especially applies to that used in the process of dating and courtship (by either sex); I didn’t understand gender roles; not being aware of non-verbal communication, I didn’t use any, and my voice and body language appeared to be lacking any feelings or emotion. If I had put my faith in finding a partner the “normal” way, I’d still be looking. (Perhaps I’ll tell the story of how my wife and I discovered each other another time.)

When seeking work for the first time, I applied for six jobs and was accepted for all of them. They were all related to my “special interests”, often referred to by “autism experts” as “obsessive interests”. While I still struggle to tie shoe laces, or converse and do up a button at the same time, I had no problem dismantling a mechanism with over 5000 individual moving parts and comprising of more than 8,000 parts in total, and then reassembling it without the need to refer to a manual. This was in spite of a work colleague messing up my neat piles of parts spread over four workbenches just “for laughs”.

I struggle comprehending a three line haiku in English, yet I had no problem solving a Boolean equation comprising of over 4600 symbols, or single handedly writing and maintaining a parts management system comprised of more than 20,000 lines of code that was used in the company I worked for in the late 1980s until the mid 1990s.

(I have used the past tense with regards to the positive traits mentioned above due to the fact that my ability to process large amounts of information has declined with age and the rise in frequency of migraines.)

On the other hand, I have no perception of the passage of time. I understand the concept of time. I’m unable to experience time passing. Without some external aid, I can’t tell you whether 5 minutes or five hours have passed. Something that happened last week or last decade often feels more recent than something that happened yesterday. My determining of “recent” is based on how much detail I can recall, not on when it occurred.

As a consequence, I suck at time management and prioritising tasks. Given the opportunity to concentrate on one task as a time, I can do a superb job, but ask me to juggle two tasks at the same time, and there’s every chance neither will actually be completed.

So while I’m deficient at some skills, I am very proficient at others. I am neither a “high functioning” autistic, nor a “low functioning” autistic I am simply autistic.

What is most appalling about the use of functioning labels is in the determining of one’s competence. Wikipedia’s editorial decision to delete pages by or about those they consider “low functioning autistics” is but just one example.

This post was inspired by one of the same name by Emily Volz over on the Aspergian: Why I’m Not a High-Functioning Autistic


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The Debate over an Autism Cure (7 min read)

Autism is not the problem. Hate, ignorance, and stubborn resistance to reflection, education, and self-improvement are the problems

I see the debate over a cure for autism similar to that with regards to a cure for homosexuality in the mid to late 20th century. Personally, I see no reason why I need to be “cured”. Sure autism does cause some difficulties for me – my hyper sensitivity to external stimuli and my hypo-awareness of nuances of language and non-verbal forms of communication. But I am who I am because of the way I process and interpret the world around me.

The following article is by patrickmagpie published over at THE ASPERGIAN. Unlike Autism Speaks, which does not speak for me, the article does speak for me, and is well worth the read…

Few things cause more feverish reactions in the autism community than talk of a cure. While the majority of autistic people hate the C word, some cling to the idea of a cure as if it’s their only hope. Meanwhile, parents of autistic children are often the most vocal about finding a cure for autism.…

Source: The Debate over an Autism Cure7 min read


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I find social events extremely tiring, not because people are unaware of autism, but because people fail to accept autism.

It is World Autism Awareness Day and my autism is making itself known. One of the most frustrating parts of my being autistic is the exhaustion and headaches that follow big events. All that processing, all that sensory bombardment, all that concentration on interactions, and no matter how wonderful and amazing the day, I shall […]

via All the Autism Awareness — Autism and Expectations


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I, like the majority of adults on the autism spectrum, am highly critical of Autism Speaks. It does not speak for us. In the post below, Quincy explains why.

Well, here we are. “Autism Awareness Month.” The time of year in which talks about autism will permeate well into the public consciousness. One of the larger organizations you will see leading the charge this month is one called Autism Speaks. This is rather unfortunate, as Autism Speaks is a charity that is loathed by the autistic […]

via Why You Should Not Support Autism Speaks — Speaking of Autism…


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What’s wrong with some Kiwis??

In a recent Colmar Brunton poll conducted for TVNZ’s One News, 18% of the population believe that our Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s ability to govern the country will be negatively impacted by the birth of her first child in June. That means almost one in five Kiwis believe motherhood is incompatible with running a country! I thought we were beyond that sort of thinking.

There have been several PMs (Prime Ministers) in the past who have had children while in office, but I can not find a single poll that queried the nation’s opinion and about whether or not the upcoming birth would have a negative impact.

The difference? The other PMs were male. Strangely, although the number of comments by the public in the media are few, there does not seem to be a significant difference of opinion by gender in how becoming a parent might affect her ability to run the country.

Most comments have been around the fact that due to the many sleepless nights ahead, the PM will not be in a condition to make wise decisions. For goodness sake! This is Aotearoa New Zealand. Most Kiwi fathers will have just as many sleepless nights as their partners, and during the night might even change the baby’s nappy (nappy = diaper) more often than his partner, leaving her to perform the one task he is incapable of: breast feeding. The odds are that previous PMs have also been just as sleep deprived as Jacinda will be.

Why did One News think up the idea that a poll on her ability to govern was even newsworthy? This has me somewhat baffled. Perhaps they thought it might be more controversial that it turned out to be? There’s no doubt in my mind that news media are just as capable of creating news as they are of reporting it.

Perhaps they wanted to show how progressive we as a nation are. If so, that fact that one in five of us think that motherhood is incompatible with a major role outside the home reveals we are not as progressive as we like to imagine.

On the other hand, if the intent was to create controversy by illustrating how conservative and traditional we are in contrast to our image of ourselves as being progressive and liberal, especially regarding gender roles, the result must be disappointing. The response from the public has been much along the lines of “(Yawn) So? (Yawn)”.

For those who missed the results in the clip above, the results of the poll How do you think becoming a parent will affect Jacinda Ardern’s performance as Prime Minister? are:
59% No difference
18% worse than now
15% better than now
6%  don’t know
1%  refused to answer

Thank goodness, no one has conducted a poll regarding the appropriateness of the PM being in a relationship that is not formalised in the manner of a marriage or civil union. I can be reasonably confident that the reason for there being no such poll is because (a) more than 90% of the population would consider it irrelevant, and (b) it would bring out the very worst of the very small number religious fundamentalists who like nothing better than to vilify anyone who doesn’t conform to their ideas of morality. While controversy might be good for business, being seen as vehicle for hatred and bigotry is not. Perhaps this is just a “Kiwi thing” that extreme views are not encouraged.

When I think about the fact the the leaders of the two political parties that make up the current government (Jacinda Ardern of Labour and Winston Peters of New Zealand First and who are also Prime Minister and deputy Prime Minister respectively) are not married to their partners, yet no one here thinks anything of it (the few religious fundamentalists excluded), or considers it in any way remarkable, perhaps we are somewhat progressive in our thinking after all.


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A stressed out Aspie

Most of the time I enjoy being me, but …

Sometimes being neurodivergent is frustrating. Take today for example. Over on another blog, a discussion developed between the blogger and myself over my relationship with Quakerism. Either I failed to understand what he/she was conveying, or he/she failed to understand what I was saying, but clearly we were talking past each other. No matter how carefully I tried to clarify what I was saying, the worse the situation became.

The blogger’s stance was that Quakerism is founded on Christianity, aka no Christianity, no Quakerism. Therefore only Christians can be Quakers. I attempted it illustrate how, although it has Christian roots, a group, with no creed or dogma, that believes that Truth grows and changes in the light of new knowledge, and where individuals are encouraged to find their own truths, will over time, hold views that might not be consistent with the beliefs of the founders. And today there are many non-Christians who are Quakers. Time after time, the blogger would reply as though I didn’t understand that Quakerism has its roots in Christianity and I’m an the most incredibly stupid and obtuse person he/she has encountered and then proceed to tell me again that Quakerism is founded on Christianity.

The topic of the argument is really irrelevant but it does illustrate how frustrated, and at times abusive, a person can get when miscommunication occurs. Being neurodivergent I find communicating with neurotypical people complicated and difficult at the best of times, and as neurotypicals make up around 98% of the population, it results in a lot of frustration. It can be hurtful too. There’s only so many times one can ignore comments such as “How many hours does it take for you to get out of bed and figure out how to put your pants on in the morning!?!?” before one begins to question one’s worth.

That blogger probably communicates almost exclusively with neurotypicals just as I do. I wonder how he/she would cope having to communicate almost exclusively with neurodivergent people in the way I have to communicate almost exclusively with neurotypicals – especially if he/she is frequently told how much of an idiot he/she is.

As an Aspie I have difficulty recognising if language is being used literally or figuratively. At age 67 I now have a complex and rich set of rules I can apply in determining whether something is literal or figurative, and these days it serves me reasonably well. But it’s still just a set of rules, and at times there isn’t a rule that covers a particular set of circumstances. This is especially so where a phrase or sentence has a lot of social or religious baggage associated with it and means different things to different people.

It was my attempt to explain this that brought up the pants in the morning comment. I’d like to say that such a response is unusual, but unfortunately I can’t. Too often it’s an excuse for yet another put down. In reply to the pants comment, I was tempted to say that sometimes I can take a very long time to figure out how to put my pants on. But I suspect that even if I explained that it would be due to a migraine attack affecting cognitive and motor skills, I somehow doubt the significance of his/her comment would sink in. As it turns out, the blogger has dedicated a post specifically to me and my apparent inability to communicate. Such is life.

For all you neurotypical people out there, next time you happen to encounter someone who seems a little different, consider that he/she has to spend all day making accommodations for people like you. Is it too much too ask that you spend a few minutes of your day to try and accommodate them?