Autodidact: self-taught

Oct
23
2011

Other People Have Minds…Really

by V. L. Craven

Autistic people cannot understand that other people have different thoughts than they do. For example, if you put a ball under a box and ask an autistic child where a person who didn’t see the placement of the ball would think the ball was the child would say, “In the box. Because that’s where it is.”

This anecdote is usually met with bafflement by ‘normal’ people. I find that interesting because most people seem to have a difficult time understanding that other people have different experiences and therefore different knowledge from them. (Of course, this is only my personal experience of humanity. Perhaps everyone you know embraces and encourages diversity of thought.)

For example, recently a co-worker of my husband’s has hinted at wanting to socialize with me so she can ‘get the dirt’ on him. This assumes that most women enjoy gossiping and putting down the men in their lives. My husband’s co-worker is in her early twenties so I’m guessing that she hasn’t met many people like me–women who don’t go in for gossip and have nothing negative to say about their husbands and even if they did they wouldn’t rubbish their men to a new female acquaintance.

The concept of other people having different thoughts is evident when others presume you hold the same political views they do. This has happened to me many times–a person leans in and starts bashing on whoever they don’t like in the political race, expecting me to agree. In a way, that’s a compliment–most humans think they are intelligent, thoughtful, sophisticated people. They then believe that others who are intelligent will come to the same conclusions they have. Believing I agree with them means they hold me in high regard.

So that’s all to the good. What then becomes the problem is that when I explain that I don’t agree they feel compelled to argue or defend themselves. To most people, it’s not all right for other’s to disagree with them–dissent is interpreted as a personal attack. Up until a person says, “My belief is that I can punch you in the face whenever I’d like,” what that person believes isn’t a reflection on you. It’s not your job to change the minds of the people who disagree with you. Your blood pressure and sanity would benefit from spending time with people who hold similar views to you.

That said, it’s edifying to attempt to see the world the way others do, but many seem to fear that merely listening to another person’s opinions will magically make them change sides. If your beliefs are that tenuous then perhaps you’re not fully committed to them. Further, being a sentient being means continually thinking and being allowed to alter your opinions upon receiving additional information. There’s a tendency in the U.S. to call people who change their minds weak rather than thoughtful or circumspect. Americans want the fast food version of opinions–simple and easily digested. An explanation that requires more than one sentence is far, far too complicated.

F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” Something that I work at is keeping in mind that other people’s beliefs are as valid to them as mine are to me. That and ‘different’ doesn’t mean ‘bad’. As I can be reactionary at times, this will be a life-long struggle, I think, but it is a worthy endeavour.

Of course, this is also my opinion. And would require arguing with those who disagree. And that’s where I have to practise what I preach. Bugger.

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