Here is a story about the willingness to show curiosity in others, rather than judgment. It’s about inclusion and acceptance.
I’ve always enjoyed the many different types of people who show up to do a weekly commitment to community volunteering. During September 2011, a woman I had volunteered with for 4 years invited me to a “special” dinner with her husband and extended family. She said that she was only inviting family members and me to this dinner at her home to make an announcement. She was a follower of Glenn Beck’s radio show and described herself, her husband, and her mother as “pre-Vatican II Roman Catholics like Glenn Beck”.
Anyway, after dinner, I sat with this family in the living room looking at the black plastic that had been carefully duct-taped over every window and I listened to Jana announce that she was inviting all of us to stay at her home starting October 7th because Glenn Beck said the Three Days of Darkness were coming October 10, 11, and 12th.
Jana went on to explain that she had bought several beds, cases of canned and packaged food, multiple gallons of water, and other necessities in case the ordeal lasted longer than three days. Their finished basement was large enough to set up an additional household and that was where we would all be staying. Jana’s sister asked her, “What are the Three Days of Darkness?” Jana held newly acquired eschatological beliefs sharing that a brown planet or comet would appear that was invisible to NASA. It would pass between the Earth and the Sun, becoming so dark that you would be unable to see your outstretched hand before you. Demons would walk the Earth in a reflection of God’s chastisement for humanity allowing several behaviors that God frowned upon so it was necessary to cover your windows and not to go outside during these three days. Those who are aware of God’s plans and heed his warning to stay inside and pray will be saved to live a new existence among the righteous.
I sat watching family dynamics at play. Her two oldest brothers told her off in the cruelest way and left, slamming the door on their way out for final effect. Jana’s sister tried to reason with her in a patronizing way, gave up, and then she left. Jana turned to me and said, “Can I count on you to join us?” I replied, “Well…I’m thinking that my cat won’t like your 5 dogs even if they are kept in their kennel carriers so I’m just going to stay home and safe with my cat.” Jana smiled, nodded, and appeared to be reassured that I was taking her admonishment seriously. I stayed for another hour, asking questions about their beliefs, and receiving a tour of the basement to see how they had organized it for the future ordeal. Then, I returned home contemplating everything that I had taken in that evening.
I didn’t need to humiliate them with logic and anti-religious rhetoric, because I understood why they were doing what they were doing; by inviting their siblings and me over for this announcement—in their own way—they were expressing their love, empathy, and compassion for us, and I felt honored by that realization.
It was odd not seeing Jana at our weekly volunteer commitment during the week that The Three Days of Darkness were scheduled to occur, and I wondered if Jana would feel comfortable showing her face to me again, when it was apparent that this eschatological event had not happened.
A few months later, Jana invited me over for Christmas dinner. The black plastic window coverings were gone, and we never discussed the Three Days of Darkness again.
Understanding each other
It isn’t just politics, economics, equality, rights & opportunities that divide us one from another. We need to open diplomacy to understanding each other. Each one of us is, in fact, a diplomat for our own personal beliefs and value system. Sometimes, it’s stepping back and just trying to understand what makes another different from me instead of trying to figure out why they are different, and resorting to that impulsivity to cure them of that difference.
I just wish that more people were either trained to be psychotherapists and/or were autistic—or both—because it seems that both groups have a knack for processing social interactions this way.
I don’t always have formidable resolve in every situation. If I feel attacked, threatened and vulnerable to someone holding hateful and demoralizing views about any component of my intersectionality, I just might have a quick meltdown if I can’t safely and immediately escape to safety. I know my limits.
I also know that my amygdala is apparently the appropriate size to determine friend, foe, and neutral/apathetic individuals. The blessings/curses of having extreme intersectionality in addition to being autistic are that I have seen and experienced firsthand how horrible both children and adults can be to those considered “others”. I have found that what is central to my core values is to be understood, as in “you really get me” so I try to extend that with whomever I encounter.
My motto for 40 years has been, “I fit in nowhere, so I make myself fit in everywhere.” I give it an effort to practice lasting diplomacy because I suspect that others also want to just be understood. This is practicing Tikkun Olam—repairing the world by making it a better place than how I found it.