There are lots of things that I wish I understood better or maybe understood at all. Recently I visited the blog of a new follower for this blog and ran smack into one of those things. That new follower turned out to be the site anonymouslyautistic.net, which is a site where people living on the autism spectrum can share stories and posts anonymously. One post title in particular caught my attention and it was actually a referral to another site – The Mighty – which has a wider focus on mental health issues. It was not anonymous, since it was from that different site.
The post is –
Lori Sealy of The Mighty shares – My Answer to the Question ‘What Does Autism Feel Like?’ talking about her sensory processing differences and how they contribute to her experiences as a member of the autism spectrum. This is a must read article that can help you establish how far from your own frame a reference for life someone else’s frame of reference can be. Once you understand that, you are ready to start trying to accept others.
As I read through Lori’s article the thing that really struck me was that trying to understand autism and how it affects the people who live with it is really trying to understand something for which I have absolutely no frame of reference. It is a common mistake when we try to understand things like this from our own frame of reference, our own life experiences and knowledge base. Lori’s descriptions of her sensory perceptions of the world are so far removed from my own that I had trouble even imagining what that must be like, yet it was trying to imagine it that helped me understand how little that I really understand. It also helped expand my thinking about how I react, or might react to others; especially those who might be far removed from my own frame of reference. I intend to follow up by reading more of the posts at the anonomouslyautictic.net site and probably at The Mighty site, too.
There are many ethnic and lifestyle groups that I’m trying to better understand, such as people who identify as members of the GLBTQ community. I felt like I was somewhat comfortable with my understanding of the GLB part of that; but the T and Q parts left me searching for a frame of reference to use, in order to better understand the experiences and point of view of people self-identifying in those categories. I read a rather scholarly article on the T part of that, which I found on the site ReconcilingWorks.org (a site for Lutheran churches that wish to become safe haven places of worship for GLBTQ people who are seeking a church home). That article left me even more confused, so I ordered a more complete book on the topic from the site. In reality my understanding of the entire community is on shaky grounds, so perhaps that book will help some, or at least point out how little I really already know.
My point is that I have this trouble understanding most of these things, and I suspect many people have the same problem. Perhaps this is because we’ve all been trying to understand things from our own frame of reference, rather than opening our minds to an entirely different frame of reference and an entirely different way of looking at things. Maybe others, like Lori, have an entirely different way of processing sensory inputs and experiences or a different way of making choices – a different frame of reference.
The more that I’ve thought about that the more convinced that I am that I have not been trying to understand at all; I was just judging the people that I encountered by a set of standards that I call my frame of reference. My frame of reference is the result of my upbringing and experiences, my education and knowledge base, my beliefs and my fears and misconceptions. That judgement of others starts with the presumption that whatever I feel or think must be “right” and anyone else that I encounter who deviates from that definition of “right”, must somehow be “wrong”. Different must be wrong. Not acting, and reacting, as I do must be wrong. Not being like me must be wrong. Apparently, not being me is wrong. How wrong is that?
Then I recalled the response that Pope Francis had to a question about gay priests. The Pope said, “Who am I to judge?” I think that is a healthy attitude that can be applied across the board when dealing with others, no matter how different they may be from me or you. Who are we to judge? So, my new mantra will be, “Who am I to judge?”
I have concluded that I will never really understand another person’s frame of reference and I have decided that I should not judge others by my own frame of reference; so, what’s left? If I don’t judge others and I don’t understand others; how do I act and react with others? Well, there’re still a lot of options left. One could start with acceptance. Accepting the person as you find them and not immediately judging them or rushing in to try to change them is a good first step. You could continue by striving for some level of empathy with that other person’s perspective on life. That requires other things, such as patience, sympathy, sharing, openness, kindness, perseverance and a willingness to learn, among others. One may end up quite often saying, “Wow, I never looked at things that way”’; and that’s a good thing. That’s a step towards understanding and so much better than just deciding that the other person’s point of view is wrong, just because it is not the same as yours.
It’s not easy taking that first step towards “acceptance”; rather than rushing into the more usual first step of judgement. In fact, I find that I must often step back from having made a preemptive judgement and recall the Pope’s words – “Who am I to judge?” If I can stop myself early enough, before I have caused the damage to the relationship that a judgement can cause; then I still have the option to accept that other person. Perhaps I will never get all the way to understanding that other person’s frame of reference for life, but maybe I can get to the point of accepting and appreciating them for who they are and trying to learn something from their different perspective on life. Who knows; maybe I can make a friend of someone, if I take the time not to make an enemy. Who am I to judge?
Have a great, judgement-free Thanksgiving!