I once heard a pastor preach about the creation story with a take on the whole thing I’d not considered since childhood. I remember sitting in Sunday school, listening to the whole serpent, tree and Eve thing and thinking, “Why was the ‘bad’ tree called The Tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil?” What is wrong with knowing the difference between good and evil?
**Friends who are non-religious, please hang in there with me and just use the reference as an example rather than immediately deciding this post is “bad” because it contains a biblical illustration. Thanks! I love you, and am not being facetious.**
The pastor at our old church put this idea out there: God never intended us to have to decide what was right and wrong. When we took that into our own hands, judgement began, and that’s where the root of sin lies. We simply aren’t the ones who should decide what is good or bad-that’s God’s job. Yet we take that job into our own hands all of the time. People band together into groups and decide “The Others” are evil because they don’t think the same thoughts or have the same opinions as the comrades in their own group. Our pastor had another sound point pertaining to the same topic:all day long, what we do is look at things and judge them good or bad. Try monitoring your own thoughts sometime and you’ll find it to be true. You run into your friend. She’s your friend because she’s “good” (in other words, she mostly thinks like you think so that when you get together you can each take turns patting each other on the back for being “right” and that feels nice). We run into the person with whom we vehemently disagree at the grocery store and when we see her our stomachs clench, anger rises and our hearts pound. She doesn’t think like I do. She’s “bad”. Obviously I am making it more simplistic than it truly is, but isn’t that the truth at the heart of the matter?
How does any of this relate to autism? Here’s where the whole thing turns on its head. Often, people with autism tend to see issues in black and white. Something is good or something is bad, period. Gray? There is no gray. People with autism also tend to be extremely rule-bound and are well-known for the tendency to try to control everything and everyone around them in order to make the world more comfortable for themselves. It’s also quite common for people with autism to have an incredibly hard time understanding that other people might have thoughts that are different from their own. Typically it’s quite difficult, once a person with autism made up his or her mind, to persuade him or her to do ANYTHING different from he or she had planned. Picture screaming, hanging onto objects with all limbs and crying to the point of exhaustion.This stuff sounds “bad” doesn’t it?
This is why there must be gray. Although throughout history we’ve seen many, many (would it be too much if I added another “many”?) individuals and groups of people behave exactly as the stereotypical person with autism described above (think dictators, ‘republics’ where the people aren’t actually represented…just to name a couple), we’ve also seen that it simply doesn’t work. Why? Well, when dealing with masses of people, flexibility is key. Something rises up in the human spirit when anything or anyone other than God tries to fastidiously control it. Proof positive: when we meet someone who puts herself on a pedestal, declares that she holds the one-and-only truth, doesn’t listen to the perspectives of others, what rises up in us? Well, most people want to knock that person right off of her own pedestal.
Now it’s going to seem like I am leaping to a completely unrelated topic, but many of you are mothers of people with autism, so I bet you can handle it. If Miss Manners failed for an entire year to write one single thank-you note, as she continually exhorted others to always write thank-you notes for all occasions, would that be good or bad? If your best friend (to whom you forgot to write a thank-you note for the wonderful birthday gift) forgot to send you a thank-you note for the gift you’d spent so much time carefully choosing, would that be good or bad? Exactly: it’s not black and white. GRAY DOES EXIST.
Unfortunately when people start to judge us and control us in all kinds of nit-picky ways, our reaction is that we want to do it back. We want to see them fail. We want to see them held to their own standards. Why do we feel these things? I would say it’s because in our gut we know that person is making him or herself into a god when he or she is really only a person. I love my children and don’t want people walking around being annoyed at them (and maybe rightly so) for making themselves into mini-gods. Therefore I must teach them about the GRAY. They don’t have to love GRAY but they need to know it exists and gently, firmly be made to understand why it exists.
Is autism good? Is autism bad? It’s not either. It’s both. That woman you ran into at the grocery store who you’ve been envisioning as the spawn of evil? She’s both. Your very best friend? She’s both. Dictators? Both.
THERE IS NO DEFINITIVE GUIDE TO DECIDING THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN GOOD AND BAD ON THIS EARTH.
People have tried for thousands upon thousands of years to create one. It’s much more comfortable to navigate through life when you can simply open a handbook, read the rules, follow them, and insist that everyone around you follow them too. The problem is, it’s not realistic. Eventually even the person who drafted the handbook, if he or she is a human being, will find him or herself unable to comply with his or her own rules. That’s where grace comes in. The problem is that we are much more likely to treat people with grace when those people are humble enough to admit that they can’t live up to the ideals in the handbook either. When people see the world in black and white, hold tightly to their own ideals and can never say (even to themselves) that they are wrong, then the people around them have a harder time handing out grace.
So, on the agenda for today: find ways to teach my children how to humbly admit when they are wrong, teach them to listen- really listen- to the people around them, remind them to be malleable and flexible so the messiness of life does not break them, and let them know that they probably shouldn’t put themselves on pedestals in order to prevent the pain of being pushed right off. When I’m done with that, I’ll do the dishes. All in a good day’s work!
Life can’t be black and white. It’s a messy, messy shade of gray. For my own part, I am glad to have God to accompany me on the journey through the mess.