I hate watching commercials. Hate it. I manage to work around them on most platforms, but I refuse to pay for YouTube no ads because I feel like I don’t watch it enough, but I do watch it for a bit daily, and my goodness the ads can get to me in that tiny window. Oooofta.
Whenever a particularly sell-y commercial barges into my headspace, this newsletter’s subject quote, a lyric, “Get the cool shoe shine!” also comes to mind. To me, the song’s about the absurdity of trends and the way many people almost fall into a trance at the shiny new thing everyone’s talking about.
The world is spinning too fast/ I’m buying lead Nike shoes/ To keep myself tethered/ To the days I’ve tried to lose/ My mama said to slow down/ You must make your own shoes/ Stop dancing to the music/ Of Gorillaz in a happy mood/
They’re overwhelmed by everything moving too fast, buying stuff to feel connected to the life they try to escape, mama says they got to ground – not escape
Keeping my groove on/ They do the bump/ They do the bump/ They do the bump/
They escape anyways…
Here you go!/ Get the cool/ Get the cool shoeshine/ Get the cool/ Get the cool shoeshine/
…to the new thing saying ‘I’ve got the solution!’ while just spinning things faster
To me, “getting the cool shoeshine” is another way of expressing “keeping up with the Jones’,” and while this (often unconscious) pursuit might be good for capitalism; it often leads to having debt and feeling empty, still trying to find the thing that makes it better. Shoeshine is also only used for nice shoes, signaling that you have shoes worthy of shining and the disposable income and time to keep them nice, and shoeshining is a service that signals that you can pay to have someone else sit at your feet and pretty them—like getting a pedicure—so the choice of ‘shoeshine’ as the hip new thing adheres to my theory.
Is the song actually about all this stuff? I don’t know. I think so, but I also thought “Teen Spirit” was about commodification and the silly “_____ is the new black” society encourages, but that one’s actually literal: Cobain apparently wore the songs namesake deodorant and the singer from band Bikini Kill wrote ‘Kurt smells like Teen Spirit’ on his wall, and *ta-da!* inspiration via perspiration, so what do I know about lyric interpretation?
Something I do know is that society feeds us messages about how stuff will improve how we feel in life; but it mostly just leads to a culture that’s obsessed with trends, with far too many people chasing something they’ll never catch up to.
Hope the last fortnight’s treated you well and your world’s not spinning too fast.
Welcome to another Halcyon Tidings, your bi-weekly dose of real but uplifting takes on life, getting through it, and trying to be the best humans we can be. (Also much randomness.) This newsletter’s subject quote, “The fool looks at a finger that points at the sky,” reminds me of the film, Look Up, where society disregards an urgent apocalyptic warning because of how it’s delivered; there’s far too much focus on society’s messengers instead of their actual messages, and when we zero in on people or presentation instead of substance we wind up missing the point.
The quote seems to be adapted from the words of Chinese sage, Confucius: “When a wise man points at the moon the imbecile examines the finger.”
I consulted Reddit for modern interpretations on this ancient wisdom— Yellowsnow2 explained, “It means the imbecile will ignore the message by focusing on the messenger. You see this all the time when debating politics on reddit. This is also known as an ad hominem [attack of the character, motive, or some other attribute of the person making an argument rather than attacking the substance of the argument itself].” Or, as RogueRoamer mused, – “Don’t confuse scientific models with the aspects of reality they are modeling. Don’t confuse religion with the true highest properties of Being. Don’t confuse your sensory inputs with the real world. Don’t confuse the messenger with the message.” Finally, grearzilla hilariously put it, “When I point at a toy for my smart dog, she looks where I’m pointing and gets it. When I point at a toy for my dumb dog, he stares at my finger like it owes him something.”
May we all be wise enough to look towards the toy instead of just staring at the finger.
* SUBJECT/TITLE QUOTE: The subject’s quote, “The fool looks at a finger that points at the sky,” is from Amélie, a beautiful film about a likely-autistic (imo) woman on a quest to see if kindness can make a difference—finding adventure, connection, and love along the way. *
Isn’t shame the worst? Knowing that you behaved in a way that hurt someone else, or yourself, or a project’s success, etc.—it sucks, it can make you feel worthless. And since it’s such a bad feeling, it often winds up being repressed by denying responsibility for one’s fuck-up, leading to more bad behavior (like blaming someone else), which just creates more of that shame.
The antidote to shame is kindness, exhibiting compassion and consideration, something that applies to oneself as well as others. Firstly there’s self-compassion, looking at your mistakes without damning yourself, recognizing that messing up is just a part of life…while also taking responsibility and learning the lesson. (Though it’s important to note shame isn’t always earned.) As for kindness to others, it feels good to help and it’s empowering to have a positive effect, which leads to more do-gooding, which means doing fewer things to feel shitty about. Don’t underestimate the power of acts of kindness.
As the song from the subject suggests, it’s natural for kindness to know no shame (as “the seasons know exactly when to change”).
This week I turned in an article that references something called the ‘double empathy problem’, a concept that details how breakdowns in mutual understanding happen between people with very different experiences and perspectives—the autistic autism researcher Damian Milton coined it in reference to allistic (not-autistic) and autistic communication, but he also describes it generally as something that can “occur when people of very differing dispositions attempt to interact.”
Who and how we are affects the way we see things, it shapes our perception. The way a situation is viewed by someone can completely depend on where they’re coming from…and this isn’t always easy to remember.
So much of life is subjective, it’s based on one’s feelings and life experience, my ‘common knowledge’ isn’t the same as yours. The subject quote of this fortnite’s newsletter, “‘Falcon hood?!’ ‘Raid on Entebbe?!,’” is from a scene in an HBO show where two friends get in a shouting match over whose conversation reference is least relatable. (Entebbe, if you ask me.) What we know about the world has only been informed by the bits of it we’ve learned about and/or experienced; yet so often we expect to immediately understand and be understood, which can be frustrating.
Putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes isn’t possible without questions, without working to understand where the other person is coming from. We can never know what’s missing from our awareness, we are blind to the things we don’t know we don’t know (something I *try* to remind myself of when feeling exasperated af by others’ actions that I just don’t understand).
So, may we all find the strength and wisdom to acknowledge when we might be making presumptions about a situation or person(s), as well as the curiosity, articulation, and compassion it takes to succeed in mutual understanding.
* SUBJECT/TITLE QUOTE: “Falcon hood?!” and “Raid on Entebbe?!” are shouted between Zach Galifianakis and Jason Schwartzman in the dazedly clever show Bored to Death (2009)—hope you had a happy April 20th! 💚 *
“The antidote to loneliness isn’t just being around random people indiscriminately, the antidote to loneliness is emotional security.” ~Benedict Wells
Emotional security. The feeling of being at home in the presence of another. Safe to be who you are, good times or bad. Feeling seen and seeing the other clearly, accepting the other’s whole lovely mess. It’s good stuff, and it can be hard to find.
In fact, ever-increasing loneliness stats have led many experts to describe the problem as epidemic. You might assume it was caused by the pandemic, but it was a crisis long before lockdowns and social distancing.
In 2018, Cigna conducted a survey of U.S. adults and found that loneliness was at 54 percent, already at epidemic levels. Since then, it shot up to 61 percent in 2019, with three in five Americans reporting feeling lonely, and now sits at 58 percent—we’ve got ourselves a big problem. And it’s not just the fact that it’s unpleasant to feel disconnected from others and not have anyone to talk to; research also shows it’s also bad for our health.
As someone who went thirty-seven years not knowing I’m autistic, for most of my life I’ve hidden a lot of who I am (masking), making it impossible to feel truly connected and seen. So, despite formerly frequent socializing, I’ve been exceedingly familiar with feeling lonely for most of my life.
However, when health issues took me out of the day-to-day world altogether in 2015, I was surprised at how much worse it got. At first, rarely interacting with others was largely a much-needed relief, but a few months in, things got dark. I was communicating with the people I knew so little—sometimes it’d be months—that I felt ungrounded, like I could just disappear, or die, and no one would even know I was gone.
When I did get to talk to the people who I then considered close, it often felt like I wasn’t really allowed to talk about my life anymore because it’d become too sad. (So cringe. Positive vibes only.)
Even with the support of a therapist, feeling so alone in what I was going through made me feel like my life didn’t matter. And it’s not that I was associating with awful humans, it’s just how we’re socially conditioned. Society prioritizes seeming-pleasantness to a severe degree, and as a result most folks have no idea how to hold space for the hard stuff. We just aren’t taught to be emotionally equipped for providing that kind of support; instead, the general example is to repress and deflect.
It’s like we’ve decided compassion is inefficient and awkward, instead honoring placid insensitivity as a virtue. And, as a result, people feel like it’s not safe to talk about what’s really going on in their lives, what they’re really thinking and feeling. This, of course, creates loneliness.
Eventually, after half a decade of dealing with severe health and life trauma in isolation, I was diagnosed with autism, which was amazing in many ways… but also a core-shaking thing to handle with only the support of online groups and a telehealth therapist who had dozens of other clients. It was too much to process, and I had a nervous breakdown.
Afterward, I accepted that I needed to work harder to find people I could regularly and, especially, authentically connect with. It took some time, but I eventually found aligned friends via reaching out to people I didn’t actually know all that well (yet) but had met through very authentic circumstances.
Routinely talking and connecting with them has changed my life. I’m still homebound for health reasons, and it’s still hard, but despite still being without human company like 95 percent of the time, I don’t feel like I could just float away anymore; I now feel warmly and safely connected, even seen and understood.
Honestly assessing if I had people with the bandwidth to connect regularly, that also know how to hold the kind of safe-feeling emotional space I need, was the first step to having consistent connection with people who let me be my whole self; relationships that do provide that precious and hard-to-find feeling of emotional security—progressively replacing my loneliness with connected perspective, understanding, and acceptance.
If your honest self-assessment comes to the same conclusion as mine—“I need to confront this loneliness thing”—these sorts of authentic-connection-seeking efforts can do the same for you.
8 Ways to Combat the Loneliness Epidemic
1. Honestly assess your needs.
Do you feel lonely? What do you need to feel socially connected? Which interactions leave you feeling drained and which ones lift you up, making you feel less alone? Do you feel safe to be your whole self with the people in your life? What are some characteristics of those who’ve made you feel safe?
2. Reach out (and reach back).
Once you’ve got an idea of what you need, reach out to someone who makes you feel relaxed, safe to just be you, and see if they want to catch up. Maybe they’ll be down for it, and maybe they won’t, but keep trying.
If you don’t really know anyone you feel safe to be authentic with, try joining like-minded activity groups or using a platonic friend-finding app. And if someone who seems safe reaches out, don’t let fear stop you from reaching back.
3. Set and respect boundaries.
What you need from someone and what they’re able to provide might not mesh. It’s important to understand that some of us are comfortable with having open, potentially vulnerable, conversations, and others prefer to stick to more shallow waters. And the same is true for the reverse.
It’s okay to prioritize time with those who connect in a harmonious way and also to distance yourself where needed. Life is pretty demanding and people can only do so much, so try not to take it personally if people can’t meet what you need, and let others (gently) know when you can’t meet theirs.
4. Practice ‘holding space.’
Make sure you’re present enough to really listen and ensure you’ve understood and/or been understood (we rely far too much on easily misinterpreted nonverbal communication).
Learning to stay in the moment—resisting deflection, going into judgment or fix-it mode—is crucial to creating authentic connection in your life (and that includes holding space for your own honest, but difficult, emotions).
It can be scary to hold space, and/or ask someone to, but we need to get over our societal fear of awkward experiences; isn’t it worth it when it could lead to connection, growth, and clarity?
5. Resist the pressure to lean on small talk.
It can be tempting to stick to trivial matters, but it’s not without harm. I concur with the take on small talk that Natasha Lyonne shared on an early February episode of Late Night with Seth Meyers:
“I don’t believe in it. I would say I aggressively don’t like it. I think it’s damaging to society as a whole… it’s like John Lennon said, just gimme some truth. I think it’s really dangerous because when you ask a person ‘How are you?’ their only option is to lie aggressively, right? Society says you’re supposed to say, ‘Oh, I’m good’ and keep it moving, but you’re not good, are you?”
It’s isolating that we’re expected to talk in pleasantries, especially since it often happens even in relationships considered close.
6. Gossip doesn’t count as connection.
In the same interview, Meyers fights for small talk as a segue into shit-talk, and Lyonne suggests that maybe instead of talking about other people they could segue into some other talk (she suggests inanimate objects, which I don’t hate).
Our society depends on gossip far too much. People very often rely on it to judge another’s trustworthiness, a fact that is manipulated all the time. And if you’ve ever played the game “telephone,” you know it’s not exactly a science to depend on hearsay.
Real conversations, asking direct questions, can be intimidating—but it’s a hell of a lot better than writing someone off because of what so-in-so told so-in-so. Also, gossip isn’t connection. It might feel like fleeting togetherness à la “we hate them,” but you know your shite-talking cohort’s talking about you as well. It’s fake. If gossip’s the primary mode of convo, you’re just flapping jaws.
7. Reflect on and articulate your feels.
When we don’t understand why we feel alone, it makes it much harder to address, so it’s unfortunate that introspection is underrated in our society (sometimes even ridiculed, which is revealing).
Gaining emotional awareness and being able to express our feelings is key to reducing loneliness. To quote sociological researcher Brené Brown, “The more difficult it is for us to articulate our experiences of loss, longing, and feeling lost to the people around us, the more disconnected and alone we feel.”
When we don’t have the words to describe our emotional experience, emotional communication becomes foreign—but by gaining emotional awareness and vocabulary, that kind of connection becomes possible.
Crucially, we must know that it’s okay to feel whatever it is that we feel, as many of us are taught that emotions like anger or fear aren’t okay. They are. Using tools like the emotion wheel, journaling, and therapy can be of great assistance, as well as opening up to trusted others and holding space when they open up to you.
8. Know (and love) yourself to connect authentically.
Finding relationships where I felt supported the way I needed to be involved a lot more time getting to know myself than I thought it would; tons of self-reflection and, ironically, solitude were necessary for me to find the self-acceptance it takes to have any shot at finding authentic support.
To again quote Brené Brown, “Love is not something we give or get; it is something that we nurture and grow, a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each one of them—we can only love others as much as we love ourselves.”
As far as how to get started on fostering self-love, I think all love grows from appreciation, something many of us find hardest when it’s pointed in our own direction. Appreciate your efforts to choose growth by reading articles on a website like this over mindless scrolling, or reaching out for connection instead of your favorite escape. And acknowledge your needs in addition to your efforts. You deserve love (the whole you).
Self-reflection and cultivating emotionally secure relationships inherently involves vulnerability, but our social norms dictate staying away from that—safe in the shallows of small talk, leaving the depths to be explored in fifty-minute therapy slots by a complete stranger who won’t have the same security with you (if you’re lucky enough to have the coverage).
While therapy can be very helpful, emotional support shouldn’t primarily be found at a price as one of many clients on a therapist’s roster. We need to have the emotional tools to express our feelings and support another’s.
And, in addition to our individual efforts toward authentic connection, we, as a society, need to recognize the costs of mass loneliness and prioritize having a populace that knows how to be there for each other in good times and bad. It’s time to learn how to allow space for authentic connection in our lives and relationships. We need it, we deserve it, and we can do it.
First, I need to welcome my new Substack subscribers as well as those imported from my old newsletter, Fuckless News! Welcome. This is Halcyon Tidings, a bi-weekly dose of real but uplifting takes on life, getting through it, and trying to be the best humans we can be. (Also much randomness.)
Ever hear your mouth bubbling out a reply to someone while your mind was still on this other thing that happened, or another that might?
The world can be so overwhelming, leaving most of us in a state of reaction, a kind of autopilot that leaves us trying to communicate around the contents and triggers of our thought soup. This results in a lack of awareness in regard to why we do and say. It’s how I lived much of my life, doing the thing my brain’s patterned to do (even if it’s not helpful or authentic) while my mind was a million miles away. The subject’s quote is from a song about always moving on to the next place trying to escape the deafening mental clatter, something I used to relate to on a visceral level. It felt like I could settle my headspace, my internal world, by adjusting my life situations and/or location (ironically remaining outwardly unsettled 😅). But, as they say, “Wherever you go, there you are,” and eventually I accepted that it’s an inside job.
That acceptance brought my sporadic focus on mindfulness into a meditation practice, something that’s given me firsthand insight into the value of consciously knowing what’s going on in one’s thoughts and being able to reflect on mental patterns (metacognition). This awareness facilitates a presence of the moment that means less of that mentally reactive “thoughts so loud” place society tends to create. (And encourage?) It’s not magic, of course, and I still know mental overwhelm, but consciously working on staying aware of my headspace helps me grab the wheel rather than falling into unconscious behavioral patterns—and, in such an unpredictable world, sometimes feeling (and being) even a little bit more in control can go a long way.
It’s meditation and mindfulness that really helped me on this path, but other ways to find presence can be: simply (but regularly) sitting somewhere and just letting your mind go off for a while, taking long walks in nature, or being absorbed in creating art, be it a painting, meal, or snow angel. There are lots of ways to allow more awareness into your headspace, helping to really get you into the moment.
Do your thoughts ever get so loud you can’t hear your mouth? Maybe it’s time to start thinking about your thinking. 💭
* SUBJECT/TITLE QUOTE: “But my thoughts were so loud, I couldn’t hear my mouth” is a lyric from the 2004 song ‘The World At Large’ by Modest Mouse, an ideal anthem for Xennial wanderers in the overwhelming aughts.
Welcome to Halcyon Tidings, a bi-weekly dose of real but uplifting takes on life, getting through it, and trying to be the best humans we can be. (Also much randomness.)
Right now I’m thinking a lot about security in life, on a personal level, but also wondering how many of us actually feel secure in our lives. I had a delightfully quirky therapist who once responded to similar wonderings of mine by sharing, “I feel completely and totally secure,” with the most contented and safe vibe I’ve ever felt. It was the first time I’d ever heard anyone say something like that, and I believed her. She’d also shared enough for me to guess she wasn’t well-off—perhaps irrelevant as wealthy people often seem to be the most anxious in that regard—and she must’ve been in her mid-70’s, still working. But she radiated security from her core, and glowed for it.
That glow, and our personable visits, got me through a very scary, painfully insecure (and lonely) time. It helped me believe that I could cultivate that feeling of safety within myself as well, rather than relying on the mad rollercoaster of life to find such stillness.
I honestly haven’t been able to do it yet, not really. For short periods I have, even during scary times (I’m disabled and have been going through the SSDI process for close to a decade); but the “what if’s?!” and fearful tears still occupy far, far, too much of my emotional space. I’m 40 now (heyyy middle age 💃), so I suppose she had 30+ years on me. Hopefully I’ll grow into someone with such authentic peace in the face of life’s infinite challenges and unknowns.
For now I’m just trying to focus on active surrender—doing all I can do, then trying my best to let go and actually recharge in my downtime, finding a feeling of security by soaking up appreciation for whatever the moment is offering instead of letting my mind spin out in exhausting futility. (Appreciation Ex., As I draft this, the blanket by my face is so so soft, and same for the warm doggo curled up at my knees, gotta love the coze.)
I hope this month has treated you well, and all of 2023 for that matter. (Collectively, I feel like we’re very very due for a good year!) And thanks for reading.
A month to shake off the societal madness, find the mental peace beneath it, and try on new ways of living.
My bookbaby, Underneath It All: Peeling Back Societal Bullsh*t to Reveal a More Whole You, is a 3-part book dedicated to helping people in modern society shake off harmful conditioning that narrows the way we see one another, ourselves, and the point of this whole living thing. It aims to open up potentiality for authentic expression, living more consciously, and having more fun whilst doing so.
Part I defines and details Societal Bullshit, also helping you to identify what it means to you personally and how you’re affected by it, using tales from my very-lived life to illustrate examples of the negative effects it can have on people, as well as plentiful research to expand and back up my points.
Part II will teach you to calm your mind so you can watch it for thoughts of toxic society ick—I promise it’s in there, we’re literally trained for it—by challenging you to a 30-day meditation challenge, slowly increasing your time as you go, and offering various styles so you can find something that works for your needs and preferences.
Part III will help expand your boundaries by challenging you to complete 20 out of 30 (quick) Adventures: you’ll be doing random acts of kindness, fessing up your truth, making stuff, and generally connecting to life in real and refreshing ways; accompanied by four inspiring stories of lives lived with bold authenticity. Parts II and III include space to write thoughts, draw impressions, or paste pics/mementos.
Together, it’s an average of 20 minutes a day or so, longer if you get creative with it. The world is a strange and disorienting place, but the one-month growth project that is Underneath It All will help you to better orient yourself within it by teaching you to examine how societal bullshit’s crept into your mind and providing guidance and (often fun) strategies to get centered in your actual you, your whole you.
By the end of the month, you’ll feel like your perspective on life has gone through a refreshing cleanse, and so has your mind—which is really your home, if you think about it. (And the lease is for the rest of your life…)
I just got started seeking representation, so stay tuned, friends. ❤
There’s a divide of understanding within the autistic community, one that can get quite contentious online: autistic adults and parents of autistic children. I think a root of the problem is society telling parents they’re responsible for raising kids in a manner conducive to doing things in neurotypical ways, the “normal” way, and parents at large face a lot of homogenized expectations and judgment for noncompliance.
But when a child has different neurological wiring, a different neurotype, normal expectations and activities can actually overwhelm their nervous system, making it even more difficult to do things like process language and verbalize. And autists are expected just act like we’re not experiencing this kind of agitating or even painful neurological overwhelm when we are, something that leads to all kinds of trouble, like autistic meltdowns, which are terrifying. During meltdowns, sometimes it truly feels like my brain is going to catch on fire from all the misfiring and pressure, then finally just explode.
They. HURT. And we don’t choose them. And we don’t get to decide when they end.
These kinds of internal autistic experiences have been treated as if they’re irrelevant, as if autists just have behavioral issues and need to learn how to “act normal,” something that makes us even more vulnerable, and we’re already unnecessarily dying decades before our peers.
Bridging the knowledge gaps between us and allistic (not-autistic) folks needs to happen and it won’t without help from parents of autistic children — the hard truth is that you’re the ones society listens to, not us, and we’re dying from the societal apathy. We need parent allies to really listen and to help our voices be heard.
Here are 10 takes on this gap from other autistic adults, starting with a couple of autists who are also parents of autistic kiddos:
“I fall into both of these categories. I wish that there was more understanding of the different communication styles rather than people jumping down each other’s throats all of the time. I wish that functioning labels would be done away with and that the parents would stop speaking for us and listen to us instead.” A.M.
“I am autistic and so are my children. I’d like parents of autistics to understand that they need to pay attention to what is going on and how their child is interpreting the experiences around them. As much as they can at least. They can’t understand truly but they can watch out for say, how a child might be handling someone having a crush on them or trying to interact with them in some intimate way. . And then they need to not approach their autistic kid with morals and judgments the kid may very well not understand. I was raised in the church and things just never made sense, yet when my parents would address whatever the issue was, they’d do it through the filter of something that already didn’t logically make sense to me. Your kid won’t understand what you want or mean if you aren’t speaking a language they understand. They may have to set aside what they think they ‘know’ and approach things differently, potentially without some things (like religion) being the primary measuring stick of a moral code.” S.L.
“That when they talk bad about my autism, they are talking bad about me personally, because I don’t see myself as separate from my autism.” A.F.
“That [autistic adults] often do really understand what it’s like to be an autistic child and we can help them if they listen to us. We can provide insight from an autistic perspective that they may not even consider as a possibility. Yes, parents often do know best, but when your child has a different neurology than you, why not ask the people who share that neurology for help? After all, we want what’s absolutely best for our future neuro-kin generation and will fiercely do whatever it takes to protect them. […] . Saying things like “my child is more severe than you are” or “you can’t speak for my child because you’re not the same” isn’t helpful. We understand their experience even if it’s not the same as ours. And if you’re saying that me (a mostly speaking autistic person) isn’t the same as your nonspeaking autistic, you’re right. I don’t know that experience because I grew up speaking using my mouth words.But then why not connect with other nonspeaking autistics who do know and understand your child from that perspective?There’s so many types of autistic people in the world; you’re bound to find one that has a similar experience to your child.” M.S.
“They are not the ones with autism and that they have to help that person develop a system/ anything to move through life. I just feel like I was told how to feel most of my life and now I’m on my own idk how to process my actual feelings now that there’s ppl who want to listen. 🤷🏽♀️🤷🏽♀️” K.N
“Understanding that we aren’t doing ‘bad things’ for the sake of being malicious 99% of the time. I remember having meltdowns and being told I was ‘ungrateful’ and throwing a ‘tantrum’ when the reality was it was like something else had taken over me and turned me into an anger monster. I was never in control until I came down from it and I was blamed for ruining outings and embarrassing my parents. Same thing with not being able to or not wanting to do a task or go to an event. They took this as me being defiant. The reality is they never listened to what I was actually saying when I said no and instead framed me as a defiant child. Talking to your autistic kid on a more peer level will help you communicate better and they will tell you what they need. You just have to listen and learn your child’s language.” S.S.
“That it’s often a journey to understand our own feelings and symptoms. We don’t always have the answers, but that doesn’t mean others should speak for us.” C.T.H.
“What bugs me the most is the idea that something is ‘wrong’ with their child. This whole grieving how they expected their child to turn out or how they wanted their life to be or their kids life to be. Disabilities are not bad, don’t need to be fixed, your child doesn’t need you grieving the loss of the abled child you wanted. Secondly, stop exploiting them on social media to ‘help other parents’ or ‘spread awareness’. Thirdly, I wish they would realize that societal rules are completely made up. Your kid doesn’t need to speak, use fake pleasantries, have fun at amusement parks etc to be loved, respected, or to enjoy life.” C.H.
“That everyone is different. I really wish that was emphasized more. There is no ‘stereotype’, everyone still has their own personality.” S.G.
“That we aren’t unintelligent just because we can’t/don’t communicate the same way. I’ve noticed the same problem within the deaf/HoH community; if you can’t or don’t speak (or can’t speak well) people don’t take you seriously or assume you must not understand normal speech. I can understand you just fine even when I don’t know how to respond or am unable to.” B.N.
Advocacy movements are changing harmful norms, but they can’t do it alone.
Social conditioning is a lot like air, we hardly notice it, and yet it affects every aspect of our lives.
It’s defined as ‘the sociological process of training individuals in a society to respond in a manner generally approved by the society in general and peer groups within society,’ and it looks like going to school, interacting with peers (especially “fitting in”), engaging with pop culture, adapting to work environments, etc. These things shape the way we view the world and interact with others.
And right now, Americans are learning that our “air” has some fiercely toxic issues.
Though there have always been Black advocates speaking up, nearly a decade ago The Black LivesMatter movement finally brought national attention to the fact that we most definitely do not live in a post-racial society (which has been clearly reflected in demographic statistics for decades) — and yet our public schools essentially teach that the ’60s brought equality to our country. Generations were taught that we’re “a nation that doesn’t see race,” learning that ignoring our racial differences was helpful; and this conditioning has led to continued societal disbelief and inaction in regard to the very real racial disparities in the US. It’s horrifying.
Then the #MeToo movement busted onto the scene in 2017, exposing the harmful misogynistic norms that women have been dealing with in America all along — and making a lot of us pretty furious about all the “sugar + spice” conditioning that basically trained us to put up with harassment and abuse, all in the subconscious pursuit of trying to be the “good girls” society told us to be.
And though disability advocacy movements haven’t yet caught the nation’s attention, we’ve been yelling for a very long time. From extensive issues with accessibility (for wheelchair users and beyond), massively-funded nonprofits that actually work against us (*ahem, Autism Speaks*), to a society rampant with inspiration porn in place of actually informing people about how to work with our different needs; to excessive government focus on “preventable illness” and little-to-none on the myriad of conditions that can’t be, resulting in a blame-the-patient culture that’s really hard to survive —we’ve got a lot to be upset about.
While developments like oodles of (brilliant) intersectional entertainment, advocacy movements regularly trending on Twitter, and increased diversity in politics are helpful and encouraging; we also need our societal conditioning to change in a structural way, in our government and healthcare systems, schools, workplaces, and how media is sourced and distributed.
Luckily, the evolution of societal norms is often a direct result of individuals speaking up. A paradigm shift is not only possible, it’s already happening.
For example, those same public schools teach young minds that Thanksgiving commemorates a peaceful celebration of unity between settlers and Native Americans when history shows that the opposite was true. And this propaganda is taught by teachers who are overwhelmingly white, with a lived racial experience that 4 in 10 Americans cannot relate to.
We need schools that teach actual, factual, history, and it needs to be taught by teachers who represent the demographics of the students in this country.
Now let’s pick on the media. Television and magazines propagate impossible ideals, corporate support/dependence, and harmful norms that serve to protect the status quo — which isn’t surprising since six white-male-ledcompanies control the vast majority of the media, often resulting in news coverage and bias that benefits those already on top.
The typical office space is also rife with room for improvement. The constraints of ‘acting professional’ usually have more to do with ‘not causing waves’ than treating colleagues with respect — and this conditioning serves us in the exact same way as the “sugar + spice” bullshite, helping to maintain the toxic status quo through unspoken demands like code-switching.
The effect of our present societal conditioning is that people are expected to “fit in” in order to move up in life, which is functionally racist, sexist, and ableist in application — ensuring that the people on top, stay on top. (And we’ve only talked about 3 offensive –ists harming our society! There’s plenty more.)
How to Help
Norms are changing on our screens, now it’s time to securely bring inclusive changes into the schools, offices, and community spaces of the United States. It’s time to check ourselves. And it’s time to speak up against harmful norms. Everyday.Everywhere. Luckily, the evolution of societal norms is often a direct result of individuals speaking up.
A paradigm shift is not only possible, it’s already happening. But it needs all of us.
Here are 6 ways we can help detoxify the effects of societal conditioning:
Learn, learn, learn. We need to educate ourselves in areas where we have societally-suggested knowledge gaps (or even misinformation), carefully ensuring that what we’re reading was written by amember of the affected group. This can take some effort, but it’s worth it to ensure that what we’re reading is truly the perspective of the community affected.
Inspect our language. Our culture is rife with popular terms that are actually offensive to our many vulnerable demographics, and even well-meaning can people offend. (We’re practically trained to, via societal osmosis.) And it’s important to pay attention to aspects that aren’t usually considered; such as more subtle aspects of discrimination (ex. for ableism, hurtful usage of words like ‘crazy’ and ‘stupid’), phrases like “that’s just the system” that subtly stand up for the status quo. And it should go without saying, but this applies to every space — not just those where minority groups are present.
Request change from the leaders of our society, especially politicians and corporations. Be it an email to your local political representatives about the harm of letting misinformation masquerade as news, no longer supporting an offending corporation due to sexist advertising, or calling out a celebrity for the societal ramifications of an ableist action; individual complaints add up and are often (eventually) appeased.
Request change. Again, individual input matters! When enough of us ask for changes in respect to well, respect, community and company leaders have to respond. And there are now training programs to help educate employees, students, and communities on how to better accommodate one another, so why not encourage one?
Speak up when you’re affected. We need to speak up when we’re hit by the negative outcomes created by societal conditioning, or it will seem like “we’re fine with it.” If a teacher only calls on the white kids, if women in your office are paid less than men, if you’re being treated as if your disabled needs are irrelevant, or anything else of that nature — now’s the time to speak up.
Learn to welcome the different. Even when we try not to let it, subtle-yet-constant conditioning affects how all of us see the world, often creating anxiety around allowing new experiences and people in. But in addition to being the inherently more kind thing to do, diversity has proven benefits; the more perspectives, the more coherent the collective understanding will be.
Inclusivity, attentiveness, and compassion in regard to our differences need to replace the societally-pervasive dinosaur mentality of “that’s just how things are done.”