Strangers Being Assholes to Me

Sometimes I wonder if I have some kind of target on my back visible only to other people. That could explain why strangers so often seem to feel the need to humiliate me in public. I think a lot of it has to do with misunderstandings related to my being on the autism spectrum but the amount of shit I’ve been getting from strangers in public lately has just been insane.

Of course if you asked those strangers they’d say I was the one who was the asshole. They’d say my behavior was so appalling that I needed to be reprimanded. They’d say they were just setting me straight and giving me what I deserved.

A few times when I’ve neglected to thank someone for holding the door open for me they’ve reacted by huffing and puffing and blowing out a snarky “You’re welcome.”  I’ve seen that kind of thing happen to other people too. It’s awkward and it makes me roll my eyes.

Obviously those door holders are offended by the perceived lack of manners on the part of the people they held the door open for. Yet somehow I don’t think barking a snarky “you’re welcome” at a person whose story you don’t know is the epitome of good manners. That person’s slight against you was probably not deliberate while you are definitely deliberately trying to make that other person feel bad. Intentional cruelty is worse than unintentional rudeness.

I don’t know about anyone else but I can say that there’s never been a time when I’ve noticed that someone has held the door open for me and I’ve thought to myself “I’m not going to thank this person for opening the door because I do not feel this person is deserving of my gratitude.” When I notice that someone has held a door open for me I say thank you.  It’s just that sometimes I don’t notice.  That’s because I have attention issues and executive functioning issues. Sometimes I’m distracted because I have something important or upsetting on my mind.

One time after a woman huffed and puffed about not being thanked for holding the door open she said loudly to her daughter for the benefit of the person she’d held the door open for (who happened to be my father) “You can still do nice things for people even if they don’t thank you.” She’s right about that but since she’s so outraged about not being thanked perhaps she should examine her motivations for doing nice things for others.  Maybe you should do nice things for people for the sake of helping them and not for the sake of being thanked.

Sure, it can sting when you’re not thanked for your good deed but let’s keep things in perspective.  Acts like opening a door for a stranger require a minimal amount of effort and hardship on your part. It’s not like you donated a kidney. But speaking of which, I regularly donate blood knowing that the people who receive my blood will never thank me and will never know who I am. I’m fine with that because I don’t donate blood for the sake of being thanked.

Sometimes I’m dense and don’t even realize someone has done something for me for which they should be thanked. I walked in to my school cafeteria and asked the cashier how much a meal cost. She asked if I was a student and I replied that I was. She then told me I didn’t have to pay.  Thinking that just meant the general cafeteria policy was that students didn’t have to pay, I went on my merry way.

The cashier barked an angry “Thank you” after me. I continued to be dense and didn’t realize she was chiding me for not thanking her. I thought she was thanking me for something, although I wasn’t sure what. “You’re welcome” I replied in a confused voice.

That’s the problem with being all around socially awkward. My social awkwardness causes me to be called out and embarrassed by strangers and then my social awkwardness causes me to respond to the calling out in a socially awkward way, causing me further embarrassment.

“What do you say when someone does something nice for you?” the cashier asked.

“Thank you” I replied meekly, feeling about five years old and five inches tall.

“Remember that next time”.

It was nice of her to give me a free meal but her random act of kindness was cheapened by the random act of unkindness she followed it up with. I would rather have paid for my meal than been publicly humiliated like that.

Perhaps she held a grudge over that incident because the next time I encountered her she chided me for coming so late to lunch even though there was no official time limit and the cafeteria was open and serving

The next time I came to the cafeteria I got a different cashier. I made sure to thank her after she gave me my change but the truth is I was also thanking her for not being the other cashier.

At the theater I accidentally bumped in to a woman when I was exiting the bathroom. I immediately apologized but apparently my apology wasn’t good enough for her. She had to snidely say “Just shove right past me, why don’t you?”

I was sitting in a movie theater reading on my silenced cell phone before the movie started and before the lights went out when this douchebag extraordinaire walks down a few aisles to point at me and yell “Turn off your cell phone! What part of the announcement about turning off cell phones did you not understand?”

I was so angry that I tried to flip that guy off but unfortunately I raised the wrong finger (my awkwardness strikes again!)

I’m self conscious and socially anxious enough without having to deal with this kind of shit from strangers. If I’d done something truly horrible I could understand why they’d feel justified in yelling at me like that but when it comes to minor faux pas like not saying thank you I think they can afford to give me the benefit of the doubt and choose their battles.

You can never know what issues the random people you encounter in public may have or what they may be going through. They may have some kind of invisible disability that makes seemingly simple tasks like saying thank you or navigating their bodies through space difficult. They may not have the energy or wherewithal to pay attention to their surroundings or to social niceties because they’re reeling from a traumatic loss they’ve just suffered. The last thing they need is to be the recipient of some random act of unkindness from a stranger.

The impulse to publicly humiliate a stranger over some minor issue is foreign to me because I would feel just as embarrassed and uncomfortable to be on the giving end of something like that as I am to be on the receiving end but for whatever reason some people seem to get off on that kind of thing.

The moral of this story is don’t be an asshole.  If you want to make nasty comments to a stranger whose story you don’t know because you think they’re an asshole due to some minor perceived social slight, consider that doing so makes you the real asshole in the situation.

 

Please don’t talk about me like I’m not there

“Is she autistic?” the woman asked my mom’s friend as I walked by.  I suspected she was talking about me but I held out some small hope that she wasn’t.  When my mom’s friend started to reply “She’s my friend Cathy’s daughter and she- ” all doubt was removed. I didn’t hear the rest of what she said because I left the room. I had no desire to listen to  people discussing me and my diagnosis right in front of me as if I couldn’t hear or understand them. If they were going to talk about me as if I wasn’t in the room, then I was going to leave the room. I’m lucky that I had the ability to make an exit.

I’m not sure what tipped this woman off. Maybe my mom’s friend had been talking to her about me. Maybe it was my pacing and flapping that did it. The fact that she hadn’t heard me speak probably heightened her perception of me as seriously disabled. People who hear me speak or read my writing first tend to be surprised to find out that I’m disabled in any way. People who see me pacing and flapping first tend to be surprised to hear me speaking in complete sentences.

This isn’t the first time something like this has happened to me. I’ve had people respond to my flapping, pacing and stereotyped movements by asking another adult who’s with me why I’m doing that and if they’re watching me. They ask the other person that question when I’m within earshot and eyesight. I know this kind of thing happens to other disabled people too. This latest incident happened when I was on vacation. No one ever gets a vacation from their disability. It’s with you 24/7.

Too many people seem to think being autistic or being developmentally or physically disabled in some way is synonymous with being deaf or unable to understand verbal communication. When that belief causes them to talk about me as if I’m not there it makes me feel invisible, inferior and dehumanized. It is rude, insensitive and inconsiderate.

I suppose I could have let that woman know that I heard her and understood what she said. I suppose I could have told her she’d hurt my feelings. That may have challenged the notions she had about me and made her think twice about saying something like that in front of someone else she thought was autistic but it would have been embarrassing for all three of us. I prefer to avoid confrontations with strangers whenever possible.

People with special needs, disabilities or differences are by definition different from ‘typical’ people and require some special treatment but they are people as much as anyone else is. There are some needs, characteristics and feelings that are universal across all humanity.

Regardless of their age, status, neurotype, ability or disability, people universally want to be treated with respect. They want to feel heard and seen by others, to be accepted for who they are, to know that they matter.

There are exceptions to every rule and we aren’t always going to know the right way to deal with everyone but when it comes to human interaction the most categorical and fail-safe rule of all is the golden rule. Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. If you wouldn’t want someone talking about you as if you weren’t there when you’re fully present, don’t do that to anyone else.