People have a tendency to imagine themselves to be normal. Moreover, unless they have strong evidence suggesting otherwise, they also tend to imagine that other people think, feel, and behave similar to themselves.
It took me many years until I realized that majority of people differ from me in various ways. As a child and later as a teen, I didn’t realize that my experiences were not the same as those of other people. Instead, I rationalized their (from my perspective) weird behaviors and sought excuses for why they did all those odd things that made no sense for me.
For example, I have never seen another person blush. I am very bad at deciphering non-verbal communication. Facial expressions, body language, vocal intonations, indirect language are means of communication that I usually cannot even notice, never mind correctly deciphering their meaning. I understood that people smile when they are happy and yell when they are angry. But blushing, that was so subtle that I have never been able to see it. For a long time I imagined that the verb “blush” was used in specific situations when people are supposed to experience emotional stress and that this verb described the situation itself. I assumed that the phrase “he blushed” was roughly equivalent to “he got caught in an embarrassing situation.” It took me forever to figure out that instead it describes a real facial expression, which actually can be seen on human faces.
I am face blind, I cannot easily memorize people’s faces. I have always recognized people based on their hairstyles, voices, height, age, gender, types of clothing they tend to wear, even gait. It took me forever to realize that other people can remember and recognize human faces much more easily than me.
I have never felt romantic love. I like sex, the physical sensations feel great. And I also like some people and not others. And I’m interested in having sex only with people whom I like. But romantic love, nope, that’s something I have never felt. All those romantic and symbolic things other couples do would have zero meaning for me if I were to go through the motions and mimic said actions.
For a long time I assumed that love must be an imaginary construct invented by poets and writers who thought that it sounded nice. I assumed that artists and story tellers must be exaggerating real emotions for the sake of making their love stories more impactful. And then I read a textbook about human emotions only to realize that romantic love actually is a real thing that other people can feel.
The same goes for some other intense emotions. For example, while I can get pissed off and irritated, I have never been extremely angry. I have never gotten angry enough to actually commit any actions I’d later regret. As a teen, whenever I heard stories about some person doing something stupid in a fit of rage, I assumed that this person must be an asshole who only pretends to be incapable of controlling themselves.
I do not have a gender identity. I assumed that this must be the case also for everybody else. Thus I couldn’t understand various, from my perspective, odd behaviors. For example, I couldn’t comprehend why women with PCOS often felt so unhappy about having facial hair.
I lived as a woman, because I feared discrimination and bullying. I assumed that gender segregation exists as a remnant of patriarchy and that other AFAB people lived as women out of fear just like me. And then I found out that in reality women live as women, because they like it and because they actually are women, unlike me who was an imposter, an agender person who wasn’t being true to himself and only pretended to be a woman out of poor reasons like fear. This realization prompted me to reconsider my life choices and motivations and experiment with gender expression. Thus I found out that I feel more comfortable living as male.
I have never understood collective mourning. A group of strangers died because of some disaster or war and now I am supposed to mourn them on some specific day at a specific time? Why should I feel any strong emotions about strangers whom I have never known in person? And how am I supposed to make myself feel sadness on demand on a specific date?
At school as a child I was occasionally ordered to mourn groups of people. Then I just stood there feeling nothing except for boredom. Thus I assumed that everybody else was just telling lies, pretending to care about some dead strangers in order to appear nicer than they really are. I imagined that family members and friends of these dead people were the only ones who truly cared and everybody else was just a lying hypocrite who wanted to show off and exploit somebody else’s loss in order to gain social approval and the reputation of being a nice and caring person.
A few days ago one of Freethoughblogs bloggers wrote about the Memorial Day:
This day is particularly egregious. Not for those grieving or remembering their fallen, but for those who share the same meme every year. Some version of it basically goes to share a grieving soldier, crying child with a flag, or some mixture of the two, and more or less “in case you thought today was about BBQs.”
Does anyone in this country actually think that?
It just feels like more guilt and shame thrown out to make sure everyone knows how good of a person you are and how patriotic you claim to be. And to an autistic person who doesn’t really comprehend the whole “this day means you feel this way” thing, it always makes me wonder:
Am I supposed to be sad? Okay, for how long am I supposed to be sad? The whole day? The whole weekend? The entire week?
Am I allowed to go to or have a BBQ? If so, do I have to be sad there? Does it have to be a solemn BBQ? Does going to a BBQ mean that’s what I think the day is about? How long do I have to be sad at the BBQ in order to not seem like I think the day is about that?…
But, all too often, it’s not about BBQs, or Memorial Day, or the military. It’s about someone reminding you that they’re a better person than you are because The Troops (TM)
This blog post got me to wonder: Is it actually possible that some neurotypical people truly care about dead soldiers as a group? Is it possible that they actually feel some emotions during the local equivalent of a memorial day (those seem to exist in pretty much every country)? Maybe, once again, I have been too quick to imagine that other people must be the same as I am and that they are only pretending to care about groups of people who died decades ago (in Latvia memorial days are about people who died in World War I and World War II, so all the victims are long dead). After all, I have a long history of being wrong about other people due to imagining that they must feel similarly to me.
For me it is not just memorial days. I don’t understand nationalism or patriotism either. The whole notion of loving one’s country just makes no sense. And I really dislike all the showing off—some people try to voraciously demonstrate just how patriotic they are in order to remind everyone how they are better than others because of how much they love the place where they happened to be born.
Personally, I do not love the place where I happened to be born because of a random accident. And I don’t like being told that I am supposed to love some country. Besides, what exactly am I supposed to love? A certain geographical location? I don’t think that the country where I happened to be born has the most beautiful landscapes on this planet. People who happen to live within the borders of this country as a group? I don’t think that people who live here are nicer than everybody else on this planet. The politicians and oligarchs who rule this place? Hell no, I hate them. What exactly was I supposed to love?
In past I used to assume that patriots and nationalists are lying about how they love their country in order to show off in front of other people. Nowadays I’m willing to give them the benefit of doubt that, as they claim, they probably actually do love something that sounds like an imaginary construct to me.
Maybe I should also give the benefit of doubt to people who claim to actually feel sad during the Memorial Day also in cases where they aren’t personally familiar with any of the victims?
I feel similarly to you about the falsity and performativity of some group mourning. However, I do feel sad and angry on my country’s equivalent of Memorial Day. Let me explain.
I know that every other human being has an internal life. I believe that it is a good thing for society to work towards reducing the amount of suffering others feel and promoting their flourishing and joy. I can’t feel as strongly about the suffering and joy of a complete stranger as I do about my own, but I know that that stranger experiences those feeling just as strongly as I do (give or take). So when I think about people in power deliberately or callously spreading suffering and death (because of greed, hunger for power, and stupidity) I do get angry. I do feel sad. Injustice makes me feel bad, because it confronts me with how unfair the world is, and how many people can’t even take the simplest steps to avoid hurting others.
I think a good reason to hold annual mourning events is that it can be a reminder to educate yourself and others, reflect on your own behaviour, and resolve to act in some way. I am aware that for the majority of people/countries/centuries that is not what they have been used for. In my mind, a great way to spend memorial day would be to burn an effigy of every politician that ever sent people to die “for their country”.
On collective mourning: I grew up in Israel, but spent ages 5-8 in Europe. So I missed out on the first few years of Israeli elementary school. I knew there was a day that was Independence Day (because I remembered it being celebrated before we left), but I did not know any of the relevant history. Nor did I know that in Israel the day before Independence Day was Memorial Day. Over the course of my first year back I absorbed quite a bit of the propagandized version of the history of the founding of the state of Israel and its various wars up to that time point. And then in spring there is the sequence: kids come back to school from 2+ weeks of Passover break, there is about a week that is dedicated to memory of the Holocaust, culminating in Holocaust Memorial Day, then about a week dedicated to learning about the war for independence (and a bit about other wars) culminating in Memorial Day. On both days of memorial sirens blast across the country at specific times and ceremonies take place timed around that – believe me, 9 year-old me was very primed to be at the very least very solemn, if not outright deeply sad, at those moments. And then there is the transition in the evening between the collective mourning to collective celebration. It is dissonant to the unprepared, and it is meant to be so.
But the time I really participated in collective mourning was when Rabin was assassinated in November 1995. I pretty much cried for 2 days straight. Because a vile person, who was part of a vile movement, took away so much hope.
I just reread this book recently, and your comment reminded me of this:
“How does one hate a country, or love one? Tibe talks about it; I lack the trick of it. I know people, I know towns, farms, hills and rivers and rocks, I know how the sun at sunset in autumn falls on the side of a certain plowland in the hills; but what is the sense of giving a boundary to all that, of giving it a name and ceasing to love where the name ceases to apply? What is love of one’s country; is it hate of one’s uncountry? Then it’s not a good thing. Is it simply self-love? That’s a good thing, but one mustn’t make a virtue of it, or a profession… Insofar as I love life, I love the hills of the Domain of Estre, but that sort of love does not have a boundary-line of hate. And beyond that, I am ignorant, I hope.”
― Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness
WMDKitty -- Survivor says
There’s nothing wrong with being weird!