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“Letting Off Steam”

  • Posted on February 26, 2010 at 8:37 PM

At first, I envision one of those old cartoon trains or factories.  Some boiler made out of cartoon silly putty is about to explode.  Then, just in time, they let the steam off and all is well.

Perhaps a better vision is a simple teapot.  “I’m a little teapot, short and stout…hear me shout.”  We fill the teapot with water and set it to boil.  When it’s hot, it steams, and the steam goes through the opening and makes a whistling sound that calls us over to brew our tea.  Letting off steam is not only functional; it is built into the design to serve a specific, automatic purpose.

And so, as I look around at all the bloggers who, upon on occasion, take a jab at the neurotypical world—making fun, building their fan base with a little humor—I try to see a teapot.  But I’m not very good at making pictures in mind.  In fact, I cannot.  I spin words and concepts and feelings, and from them I shape pictures with the words I place on the page.  Overwhelming any picture I try to construct in this manner is the feeling of sorrow and regret that comes creeping over me.  These jabs are not a functional little teapot, however normal and understandable they are.  These jabs are not “neurodiversity at its finest” or even “neurodiversity at its worst.”  In fact, they cannot represent neurodiversity at all.

In an earlier post, I said:

5) You cannot claim to value diversity and dislike individuals or groups based on traits beyond their control.  For example, you cannot dislike someone who embarrasses you by having a seizure in public and still value diversity.

Every time a neurologically atypical person makes fun of a neurological typical person because they’re neurotypical or attributes an entire set of behaviors to neurotypical people on the basis of a few representative examples, you are divorcing yourself (at least, for a little while) from the concept of neurodiversity.  If neurodiversity, as per the meaning I proposed, is something you believe in, then you betray your own beliefs by doing this.

I’m not point fingers or citing names.  My pot is just as black as your kettle, and I know that.  It’s a very human pattern of behavior.  We let off steam, especially in the face of adversity.  It’s normal.  It’s natural.

But it’s wrong.

It’s an act of prejudice.  It’s counterproductive to the concept we purport and support.  And we weaken ourselves every time we give in to this impulse.  And we know better.  We really do.  We can say we don’t, we can justify ourselves, but these are excuses.  We know better.  If we didn’t—if our standards weren’t set higher than this behavior allows—we wouldn’t be demanding respect, acceptance, and dignity for neurologically atypical people.  We do know better.  Respect has to be mutual; it has to go both ways.

The stereotypical neurotypical person erects barriers for others, wrapping themselves in ignorance and privilege, ignoring neurologically atypical people, and forcing their ways on us.  It happens.  There really are people like that.  But, it’s also a stereotype.  The people who behave in this way represent only themselves; they do not represent neurotypical people and should not represent neurotypical people in our minds.  If you do not recognize that or cannot acknowledge that, then you do not support neurodiversity as I define it.  If you support any semblance of neurodiversity it is strictly on the basis that the concept empowers you.  If that is the case, please stick to empowerment.  You do not have to respect diversity to advocate for empowerment of unprivileged individuals.  You do have to respect diversity to advocate for neurodiversity, otherwise you’re just a hypocrite and there’re enough of those in the world, thanks.