The Symptoms of Normalism

Distribution, Normal, StatisticsNot easy, but I’m trying, for a moment, to look at my tribe – the people who regard themselves as ‘normal’ or ‘neuro-typical’ – from the outside.  I’m trying to see us from the perspective of those Version 2.0 people who are wired differently.  (I’ve reverted to my ‘Version 2.0’ label because not all of them are on the autistic spectrum as it is normally described.  Many are – but there are others, variously called ‘sensitives’, or ’empaths’ or those with various diagnoses or descriptions of differentness, and I wish to include them all.)

Disclaimer:  I use the term ‘Normal’ throughout this article in a somewhat ironic sense.  I personally consider terms like ‘normal’ and ‘disordered’ to be chauvinistic and symptomatic of what is wrong with common assumptions in our society.  Also, I am a person with ‘Normalism’ and I love words.  I can’t imagine life without their richness and beauty.  This post is just a thought experiment, okay?

 

Probably the most difficult aspect of Normals to comprehend is the disparity between what they say and what they actually feel or think.

“No, it looks great on you, honestly.”

(‘It would actually suit someone twenty years younger much better, but I understand you’re going through a bit of a mid-life crisis and if it makes you feel good to wear it, that’s fine by me.’)

“Oh it’s nothing.  Really not worth reading – just something I scribbled off last night.”

(‘I poured my heart and soul into these words, but I’m terrified you won’t understand and will dismiss them as trivial or stupid, so I’m pretending it’s not important to me in order to shield myself in advance from any critical comments you may make.  Anything hurtful you say will still upset me deeply, though.’)

“Well who’s the teacher’s pet, then?”

(‘I feel envious of the praise you received for that assignment and my inability to produce anything that good.  I am therefore attempting to make you feel uncomfortable.  It is my hope that my negative reaction to your success will encourage you to try less hard in the future, thus letting me gain more approval from the teacher.’)

Professor, Mathematician, Scientists“It’s important for you to get an expert opinion.”

(‘You are inferior.  You are incapable of reaching a satisfactory answer, due to the prejudices and fixed ideas lodged in your brain.  There are far better individuals than you whose prejudices and fixed ideas come for other individuals with letters after their names.  These people know what is best for you, despite not knowing a great deal about you.  I know this because I learned it from experts.’)

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

I’m aware as I write this that I live in southern England, an area particularly renowned for this kind of double-speak.  Northern Brits, Americans and Australians, for example, would readily assert that they are far more inclined towards plain speaking, calling-a-spade-a-spade and otherwise using spoken language to express what they feel.  Really?  Try, for just one conversation, to avoid any sarcasm, any ironic aside, any well-meant but artificial compliment, any indication that you sort-of agree, despite the fact that you don’t, or any self-depreciating statements that are not in total resonance with what you feel.

Silver Leaf, Lunaria, SilberlingYou’ll argue, perhaps – you Normals – that without such social niceties, speech would be brutal, hard and cold.  People would be offended.  They might take against you.  They might (this is the greatest fear) not flatter and praise you in return.  Normals require an almost constant drip-feed of approval.  Without this, paranoia sets in.  That’s why Normals struggle in their contact with the other tribes.  The Asperger guy is not going to tell you that you look good, that it’s great to see you, that he’s glad you came.  You’re there; he’s there.  No more to be said.  Normals are needy, though.  They want that stuff.  They’ll cheerfully relinquish honesty to get it.

In a previous post I mentioned the 7 year-old Version 2.0 child who came to me distraught after a quarrel with his friend.  “She told me she was sorry,” he said, “but I can see into her heart and that isn’t the feeling that’s there.”
It wasn’t the quarrel that had upset him, but the fact that his friend didn’t respect him enough to share her heartfelt feelings. She insulted him by feigning an apology.

If the Version 2.0 people can ‘see into someone’s heart’ (all this is explained far better in the previous post, written by The Snacking Sage and in Suzy Miller’s important book ‘Awesomism’), nothing but honesty will do.

The small child who asks, “Why are you sad, Mummy?” and is told, “I’m not sad, dear.  I’m fine,” by a mother who attempts to conceal the truth because she doesn’t want to worry him will – obviously – worry all the more if he knows he’s being lied to.

Looking Up, Hope, Black White, PortraitThere are more of these Others – these Non-Normals – than might be imagined.   They are way-showers.  They can teach Normals – if we’ll truly stop chattering and listen to their silence – to discard the fake conversation and to return to the openness that is a natural by-product of telepathic communication.

Yes, I can see that there would be difficulties and challenges, but ultimately, aren’t we all yearning for greater transparency?  Aren’t we, after all, sick to death of being lied to and cheated by those in authority, by multi-nationals who mislead us for their own profits, by those who claim to be acting in our ‘best interests’?  It’s worth considering that there are many individuals who are similarly sick of the lack of honesty in ‘Normal’ social interaction.

This is only a personal viewpoint, but I suspect the ‘shift’ that occurred around 2012 involved a fundamental change of mindset amongst humanity – a desire to move beyond ‘them and us’ towards a fairness and openness based on personal responsibility, not the imposition of rules by a corrupt leadership.  That could work, if only we could communicate heart to heart.

 

Listening to Llull

IMG_20150417_161121This wasn’t the post I was intending to write this week, but the Friday 13th events in Paris, and the Western governments’ entirely predictable responses have prompted me to insert a few thoughts on someone who for me is a new-found hero: a man who lived many centuries ago, but perhaps has something to teach us all today.

Ramon Llull was born to courtiers of Jaume the Conqueror – a mediaeval Spanish king responsible for taking Mallorca, among other places, from the Arabs.  Ramon became a page at court and later tutor to Jaume’s son.

Bear in mind that this was the time of the crusades.  Bitter wars between Christians and Muslims had been raging for well over a century when Ramon was born.  The divisions between the two cultures could not have been greater.  Hatred and distrust of all things Arab would have been endemic in his world.

IMG_20150415_113040

gardens of Arab baths, Palma

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Arab baths, Palma

Perhaps, as a young man, he wandered amongst the beautiful Arab buildings in his home city of Palma.  He certainly thought deeply and studied hard.

Leaving his family, Llull went to live on a mountain in the centre of the island, taking with him an Arab servant, from whom he learned to speak Arabic.

Certainly, like every Christian of his day (and many in our own) he believed that his religion was the one true way and that Jews, Muslims and anyone who didn’t share these beliefs should convert.  Unlike his contemporaries, though, he did not believe this should happen at the point of a sword.  He proposed the use of logic – philosophical argument – to convince others.

IMG_20151104_143724He produced intricate diagrams and many books which he was sure would convince anyone of the veracity of his beliefs.

He travelled tirelessly to visit heads of state across Europe and the Middle East, offering them his works and begging them to engage in dialogue rather than warfare.

Miramar, the site of one of Llull's universities, on Mallorca's north coast

Miramar, the site of one of Llull’s universities, on Mallorca’s north coast

He set up a series of universities, where young monks could learn Arabic and other less-studied languages, the better to engage in discourse with those of other faiths.

Ramon Llull had discovered a great truth.  He had realised, centuries before Einstein would turn it into a sound-bite, that the definition of insanity is

doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

He was blazing a new trail and trying to move humanity on from endless, pointless bloodshed; he was proposing respectful, open dialogue and discussion at a time when the divisions were apparently intractable.

We have to start somewhere – why not with ourselves?  Might it be time to listen to his ideas?

 

 

 

Thinner than blood?

Blood, they say, is thicker than water.  Maybe so.  Sometimes, though, the thinner, more watery relationships can show a surprising strength and tenacity.  Ours has.

Wondering what might have happened if… is a fairly pointless occupation, but I do sometimes find myself considering how my life and William’s would have been, had he not, at the tender age of six, joined the class I was teaching and had his mother not, almost immediately after that, developed breast cancer and slowly and sadly passed over just a few years later.

Regardless of what might have been, those things all happened.  I believe that’s the way all three of us – at soul level – planned it.

I was destined to devote many years of my working life to helping children with speech and language difficulties and autistic spectrum perception communicate with the rest of us, and many more years helping this one boy in particular.

Scrutinizing facial expressions

William was a child with a formidable intellect, an enhanced sensitivity which made ‘normal’ sounds, tastes or smells virtually unbearable, a gift for strategy bordering on brilliance (he was the school chess champion at 7, thrashing talented 11-year-old opponents – and me! – with consummate ease), marked telepathic skills, a smile that would melt the hardest heart and hardly any comprehensible spoken language.  While he would spend endless hours contemplating life, the universe and everything, watching Star Trek and devising codes and cyphers, he was totally baffled by everyday life and found other children particularly puzzling.  He couldn’t read facial expressions or tones of voice.  He could follow only the simplest of verbal instructions and idioms or sarcasm threw him into a meltdown.

I was fascinated – totally hooked – by this intriguing little kid, long before the tragedies in his life threw us together.

I did my best.  I befriended and supported his mum, did what I could to help the family – taking the children out to give the parents some time together or sitting with the mum so that Dad and the boys could have some afternoons doing normal family stuff together.  My head teacher came and read stories to the class once a week, so that I could give William some individual time to draw pictures, talk through his fears, his nightmares, his frustrations and fury.  A strong bond started to form between us.  Inasmuch as he could trust anyone in those days when his world was falling apart, he trusted me.

Later I’d visit his mum at the hospice.  We talked through what was to come and she begged me to stay in touch with him and keep caring and helping him after she’d gone and after he’d left my class.  I promised.

Teen, Teenager, Boy, Teens, MaleCaring was never a problem.  Helping often was.  There were times in the years that followed when we got along amazingly well together.  We shared many interests – chess, train journeys, a fascination with cosmology, time travel, past lives and the like.  There were times when he retreated totally and refused to speak to me.  There were times when he wanted to talk on the phone for hours every night.  There were dodgy mates and dangerous situations.  Adolescence is something of a tightrope for even the most well-adjusted boy.  Add in difficulties reading social situations and hidden motives, family rifts (he didn’t get along well with his new step-mother), childhood trauma and residual speech difficulties and you have a drug-pusher’s dream client, a bully’s perfect victim and someone guaranteed to swell the coffers of the local off-licence.

Falkensteiner Cave, Cave, Caves PortalI carried on doing my best.  I made it plain that I’d be there, whatever happened, and somehow – even when I’d more or less given up all hope – he’d eventually drift back into my life, start to share his amazing and original ideas with me again, and I would keep them safe.  There would be strange predictions about the future, diagrams of the cosmos, theories about anything from life after death to interdimensional portals.  I kept them in old journals, on scraps of paper and in all manner of files on my hard drive.  It felt important.

What happened to William, and all those words, will follow.

To be continued.

 

 

 

 

The Flow of Language

Homilies d'Organyà: First manuscript in Catalan Language is slippery.   It drifts and eddies through time and space, toying gently with syntax and vocabulary. Scholars and leaders may try to tame and subjugate it, but language – the true living vulgar language of the people, the ‘langue des oisons’ – resists. No sooner is it caught and caged in learned texts, than it laughs gently and, like some mythical sorceress, shape-shifts before the eyes of its captors and flies free once more.

I live on an island, one whose shores were, for millennia, invaded and settled by tribes from North, South and East. Each left their marks upon our languages: Celtic and Gallic, Latin and Norman, Angle, Saxon and Norse. The river of language swallowed up or skirted around new words and concepts and flowed along regardless. When The Conqueror’s men, with swords and the mediaeval equivalent of clipboards, arrived to question their subjects about the places they newly owned, language was of limited use.   The rational Normans were categorists.   There had to be a name for everything.

“What is its name?” they would demand of locals, pointing, perhaps, at a river.

“River,” the bemused peasants would answer, for why should it need a name?

English: River Piddle Behind Affpuddle Church

River Piddle  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In their tongue, the word for river was ‘afon’.  Thus the unsuspecting Normans duly wrote ‘River River’ on their maps – and England is littered with River Avons. If there were two rivers close by, of course, it might have been useful for the locals to have some linguistic means of differentiating between them.   One might be fast-flowing, for example, while another less so. It takes little imagination, then, to understand why the River Piddle in Dorset is so named.

The fluidity of the vulgar language allows for local diversity.  Where I grew up, in the south east of the land, we’d trot along the twitten to school. My children, born in East Anglia, would have used a folly.  Elsewhere these are snickets, alleys, cuts, twitches and footpaths. This gives each area – each neighbourhood, even – a private way of conversing, one which excludes outsiders.   Doubtless there have been many times in the history of this land when the ability to chat thus,  beneath the radar of the highborn and oppressors with their Norman French, Latin or King’s/Queen’s English, has been of considerable value in preserving customs, secrets and even lives.

English: The Mediterranean Sea in Banyalbufar,...

A recent visit to the island of Mallorca in the Mediterranean Sea revealed a similar linguistic heritage.  Theirs too is a history of occupation and assimilation: the mysterious ‘Sea People’, Spanish, Moors, Romans, Knights Templar and others have come and gone.  The current place names are a glorious mix of Arabic, Spanish and, most commonly, the two native languages of the island – Catalan (the island’s official language) and Mallorquin.

I was unaware of the existence of this latter tongue until I arrived there.  When spoken, it sounds like no language I’ve ever heard, although there are elements of French and Spanish lurking within.  Mallorquin is truly a ‘vulgar’ language – a language of the people.  Its words and cadences vary from village to village, town to town.  It’s not a language of books and scripts, but of concealed local gossip, heritage, history and legend – belonging to and confined within the island.  Its fluidity and rusticity are its salvation.  Outsiders will shrug and leave it well alone.  That way, it will flow and flourish.