Thursday, September 2, 2010

Healthy naiveté by Claire Prideaux

Martha note: Claire is a frequent and thoughtful commenter on WMRA's Facebook page. She developed the following blog post at my request.

"If you think there is no agenda here, you are at the very least naive."

Those words were written in response to a comment I made on Facebook about the proposed Muslim community center in Manhattan. They were followed by, “This is a slap in the face to the families of [those] who died, disrespectful to [our troops] who defend this country abroad, and insulting to the NYFD & PD.”

The writer’s response came as no surprise: I have been accused of being naive before; I have Asperger's. Folk with Asperger's Syndrome tend to take things at face value; we tend to need facts and proof, and employ logic, which is not to say that we don’t also take feelings under consideration. Feelings alone, however, offer little to understand whether the negative reaction to the community center is warranted.

I’ve noticed that people who are wired normally tend to be overly suspicious. Suspicion, an adaptive trait necessary to the survival of the species, requires moderation in everyday life. Indeed, excessive and unfounded suspicion is harmful to human relations. We need only look at our own lives to see how unhealthy levels of suspicion contribute to unnecessary drama with family, friends, and co-workers, causing people to read into another’s behavior something that was never intended.

No doubt, being very suspicious of “the other” was fine when we could just scare strangers away, but the world no longer works that way. That is, it doesn't work that way if we plan to keep freedoms that we ourselves value, such as religious freedom and freedom of speech. In a shrinking world, it’s imperative that we learn to get along with others and not go around beating our chests at the first hint of danger or affront, particularly when that hint as to how to feel or think is provided by a pundit or a political operative.

What we think we see or what we are told is not necessarily what is, and the “mosque” flap is a case in point. The Imam behind the flap has been looking for a community center site in Manhattan since 1999. Besides, we ought to know that pundits and political operatives are keen to set upon circumstances to affect election outcomes. Why is it then that we are more concerned with a community center that has been in the works since 1999 than words that appear intended to cause a knee-jerk nationalistic response?

From what I’ve been able to discern, we are dealing with yet another political football; an issue meant to divide and distract for election purposes with no thought given to the damage this game playing does to our culture, our efforts abroad, or our freedoms.

What enables the average American to be so confident with their perceptions of what is, or is not, that they can conclude with great speed that nefarious intent must be behind the building of the center, particularly one that has been in the works since before 9/11? Remember: Terrorists bombed the Twin Towers on 9/11; not a sovereign nation, and certainly not the families of the innocent Muslims who died that day. Did their families and other Muslim Americans give up their right to religious freedom, to develop property, to speak freely because of a handful of Muslim extremists?

In the meantime, in an effort to improve human relations, perhaps we humans would be better off if we employed healthy levels of suspicion or healthy naiveté in our dealings with others.

Martha note #2:  WMRA is not just a radio station; it's a community conversation held through Virginia Insight (starting today, on twice a week, remember), the WMRA Facebook page and this blog. If you have an issue you'd like to put out on the conversational table, please let me know. I so welcome guest WMRA bloggers.


  1. As a family member of someone with Asperger's, I find this comment deeply troubling. While the opinion about the mosque is fair and reasonable, this opinion piece is not really about that; one needn't have Asperger's to arrive at such an American viewpoint.

    What the above opinion piece is really about the innate superiority of the Asperger's perspective. To advertise the cruel disorder of Asperger's as a somehow more exalted human condition than the "neurotypicals" (which is what some "Asperger pride" people call us "normally wired" people) is to me troubling and misguided. You might as well call us the "muggles" or sneeches without stars upon thars. Though Aspberger's has become the diagnosis du jour, in the same way that ADD was in the last few years, we who really do suffer with the disorder ask those who have been newly diagnosed (or worse, self-diagnosed with internet quizzes!) to be more circumspect in broadcasting misinformation about this quite heart-breaking condition.

  2. I am sorry that was your take away from the piece I wrote. I agree that "one needn't have Asperger's to arrive at such an American viewpoint."

    What I wrote was not intended to be about the innate superiority of the Asperger's perspective. It was a piece about suspicion and it derived from my hearing once again how naive I am, a reoccurring theme. It was one of many perspectives I had on the matter, and yet it was the one I felt compelled to write in response to the FB encounter.

    Before this FB encounter, I had been spending a lot of time contemplating suspicion because I very much need to learn how to have healthy suspicion (that is, how to be suspicious of anyone in my personal life). How to make sense of what I gather. How to understand the intent of others that I interact with.

    Not everyone with Asperger's suffers from the same set of challenges. I have little trouble understanding the intent of pundits and people in the political realm (people with whom I have no personal interaction) or at least coming up with a theory of why someone is behaving the way s/he is behaving on the national stage. However, I have a great deal of difficulty understanding the motivations of people that I interact with in every day life.

    In the "mosque" flap, I saw a lot of what I thought of as unhealthy suspicion on a national level, and so I wrote from the viewpoint of naivete because I could see that there is such a thing as healthy naivete.

    As for my opinion about normally wired people, they seem overly suspicious to me in general (not in particular). That's my perspective and I find my perspective alarming. Both the idea that people in general might be overly suspicious to point of causing harm to themselves and others and the idea that they may not be as suspicious as they appear to me--that is, that I might be so far from understanding why people are as suspicious as they seem to me to be, as this perception might say something about the distance must I travel to understand all that constitutes healthy suspicion.

    Whether this--my perception that people in general are overly suspicious--is an accurate reflection on the true nature of reality I cannot say. It IS what I see, and my interpretation is borne in part out of how people have reacted to my difference. It is part of the HEART BREAK I have experienced as someone with Asperger's. Far too often, people have assumed nefarious intent on my part where no nefariousness was intended.

    I could have left my Asperger's out of the piece and yet the FB comment hit upon an area that is a current focus of mine--one that has brought me personal pain--, and so I chose to write about that with some humor... a little tongue in cheek. Yes, humor. Sometimes humor helps take the edge off of an issue a person is struggling with.

    I am not surprised that you (or anyone else) did not recognize or get the humor (in a piece that is otherwise serious), and that's okay. You have your pain to contend with. I imagine that the parent of a deaf child might be offended by the humor of a deaf comedian when the humor mentions differences between the deaf and hearing world.


  3. I am surprised, however, that you'd want to censure me.

    So tell me: How am I allowed to talk about my Asperger's? Please help me understand the boundaries that I must operate within so as to not offend your and others' sensibilities.

    What I find most troubling about your comment, however, is that it would appear that no one with Asperger's ought to feel any pride about who they are if who they are in the world is in any way attributed to their Asperger's. As someone with Asperger's and ADD and a few other learning disabilities, I remember being shocked (and then hurt) to find out what I thought was me (including things that I had come to accept and even appreciate about myself) had more to do with a diagnosis. And regardless of my attempt to poke a little fun at myself here (yes, myself and humans in general), I embrace who I am as I continue to try to be the best human I can be. I am done apologizing for what I struggle with.

    Though I feel for your pain and what seems like the insult you felt for yourself and others in reaction to my piece, I am left feeling very confused by your comments.

    I'd like to know what misinformation I was sharing with the world? Would that be the part where you believe that by writing this piece I was attempting to make Asperger's a "more exalted human condition?"

    And what would be so wrong if having Asperger's sometimes led me personally to a perspective that could have been arrived at by anyone from another angle? (I did not derive it from another angle.) And why would I not write about that even if tongue in cheek... even if you didn't get my sense of humor?

    And why should I feel ashamed (it feels to me like you are wanting to shame me into circumspection) that a comment on FB hit upon something I had been struggling with with my Asperger's and I chose to write from that perspective? Why? I really want to know.

    And what about the veiled attempt to suggest that I don't have Asperger's, that my psychologist fell prey to the diagnosis du jour, or that I am self diagnosed, by a internet quiz no less? How hurtful or helpful is that?

    Claire Prideaux

  4. Wish this article had been written and I had not felt the need to address the irate parent by baring my heart and soul, as that took too much out of me.

    When Autistics Write About Autism
    Written on August 14, 2011 by Stuart DuncanFiled Under: Autism

    "I’ve seen Autistics write about themselves, how proud they are of themselves. Often they write about how they advocate on the higher functioning end of the spectrum only to be attacked by parents that have children on the lower functioning end of the spectrum because they didn’t say what they wanted to hear. The parent disagrees so adamantly that they attack the Autistic person because what they say doesn’t mesh with the parent’s experiences."

    "My advice is, when you see a post by a person with Autism, imagine that person is your child. Imagine you’ve encouraged you child for many many years to speak up and to be brave… to not worry about what people say and just share who they are with the world because who they are is beautiful.

    If you and everyone could do this, the responses would be vastly different. Even if you disagree, you’d response with respect."