You're doing it wrong!

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, August 23, 2022, 11:40 PM | comments: 0

I don't recognize it often, but when Simon sees something that isn't working right, or someone is doing something the wrong way, I see him quickly become passionate about the "right" way. One might misinterpret this as arrogance or an overcompensating sense of superiority, but I know better. It's nothing of the sort.

I know this because it's one of the many ways I've struggled in interacting with other people. It was probably made worse by my stepfather, who never allowed me to be right about anything, but there's little doubt that it's another dimension of an autistic brain.

This started early in life. Other kids washed the chalkboard wrong. My brother didn't play right in the sandbox, and other kids in the neighborhood were ten times worse. In my first retail job in high school, cashiers were inefficient in the way they keyed items in to the register and I had to explain why (no scanners back then).

It got worse in college. One of my radio/TV instructors was feeding nonsense to alumni about improvements in the academic program, allegedly at the expense of practical work, and the alumni threatened to withhold networking opportunities. Then the radio station I worked for picked up the story (one side of it). I was pissed, so I wrote the faculty a memo. You can guess how that went. The "who does he think he is" phrase was tossed about quite a bit in meetings (and I know this because certain faculty thought I was right and they told me as much). But I wasn't claiming to know better, I only described my dissatisfaction about the situation and how it was coming at the expense of students.

There was a learning moment there, because I did run it by the department chair. My tone was manipulative and personal, which after years of therapy I understand as something I observed at home and among family members. That's where you start to learn about interpersonal relationships. The department chair showed me how I was using tone to hurt, which would not help, so I sterilized it quite a bit, and stuck to the facts.

Sometimes, even when I was right, it would get me into trouble. At my first real job, working for a city and school district, spinning up their cable TV channels, I had to constantly remind the committee that I reported to about the ethics and election laws about using me and my office's resources for things that could be construed as campaigning. This pissed off the city council president in particular. Obviously they put me in a tight spot, but I eventually had to subtly remind them of my obligation to the law and that the press was watching the development of my office closely. It was a non-subtle way of saying, "I'll go to the press if you don't get off of my shit." I'm fairly certain that made life hard for me in the rest of my tenure in that job, and again my allies let me know there was "who does he think he is" sentiment.

As is the case with any number of adulting things, I learned over time to deliver "you're doing it wrong" in more constructive ways. Compensating for a neurotypical world is what you do to survive. I admit that I'm not always patient about it. But as a leader for about half of my career (and oddly, in that first job), I know that you can't just go around telling people they're doing it wrong, regardless of whether or not you're right. Still, it's frustrating that others will interpret your action as being arrogant, and it's just one of the many ways you may misread people with ASD.

One of the strange twists on this is that I am, for some things, an excellent teacher. I speak at conferences, wrote a book on programming and was really good at teaching kids volleyball skills. For reasons I can't explain, there are things that I coldly attempt to correct, and other things that I patiently work to instruct. When I think about this, I believe it further illustrates that my intent has always been noble, even if my delivery in the earlier stages of life was suboptimal.


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