Monday, August 13, 2007

"I Wish I Were Special"

I read this movie review of "Ratatouille" (a movie I have not seen) one day, which included a blurb about "The Incredibles," a movie I had seen:

"He [Bird, the director] communicates an idea that all people are not necessarily created equal in regards to the things they may naturally be good at (indeed, they may each be naturally good at different things). The Incredibles showed this by contrasting the superheroes' amazing and varying inborn abilities against those of its villain, Syndrome. He had no super powers but wanted to become a superhero; bitterness at not being able to accept not having powers leads him to become a villain."

I also read somewhere that day that it was typical in stories for special people to want to be normal, and normal people to want to be special.

Now, Syndrome may not have had superpowers, but he had a talent that, I would say, surpassed those of any superhero: he was a genius engineer, building machinery that mimicked superpowers since he was just a child. As a young adult, he'd managed, with funding from the government, to design a robo-monster so powerful that it could kill any individual superhero that dared challenge it...but, as the good guys must always win in those family films, not a whole team of them such as the Incredible family.

I've been a little bit like the young Syndrome when it came to my attitude toward autistics, especially the so-called "high functioning" ones (though my readings of neurodiversity sites and blogs indicate that functioning levels are an iffy concept, as the abilities of individual autistics shift and drift over time. My boyfriend has experienced some changes - generally towards the NT simulation direction, gaining some sociability and losing some intensity of focus, according to his own self-reports.) Autistic people often have incredible focus, sometimes to the point of savant skills, and an unusual and precise way of seeing the world. They also have the status of being "unique" in a socially recognized and substantial way. Since I'm already not the most charming and sociable person in the world anyway, and already have analytical tendencies, I've sometimes wished I were autistic, so I could gain the "superpowers" without losing all that much in the way of traditional non-autistic strengths 'cause I didn't have that much of them anyway. (Of course, I assumed then that non-autistic strengths were primarily in the social realm. Not until my recent long discussions about emotionally charged issues with my Aspie BF did I realize that there were other non-autistic strengths that I did have in reasonable quantities, and I'm thinking now that I would in fact like to keep them.) I've also lamented being "normal" in general, equating it to ordinary, redundant, and ultimately valueless. Even as a kid, I used to complain that I wished I were a genius.

Over time, my envy of autism has faded (although it was on and off for a while and could relapse for all I know), but every now and then I still wish I were special and lament my ordinariness.

But it goes to show how the proverbial grass is always greener when I hear my boyfriend talking about how he does things or would consider doing things because he wants to be "normal" and to "beat the Asperger's." Apparently he values the social acceptance of fitting in, and coming from a rather conservative religious background, he hasn't had the kind of exposure I've had to the glorification of uniqueness and difference and "being yourself." Or if he has had it, then it didn't hit him during that critical imprinting phase in his life (childhood and early adolescence). He often thinks of the world quite directly in terms of concepts, ideas, rules, and people he knew then, and modifies these templates as soon as he gets enough input to do so. This may be a version of the autistic tendency to memorize whole patterns in detail and use them as thought-elements. Anything or anyone that deviates strongly enough from these early patterns is "weird" or "unlike anything he's every seen before."

So it's just like in the stories: the normal person wants to be special and the special person wants to be normal.

So what's the point of normal people - those of us who are close enough to the averages and stereotypes that we can hide under them with relatively little effort?

I don't know. But just because I don't know, doesn't mean that normal people are redunant or worthless. I'm reminded of my little epiphany when I read something - linked from ballastexistenz at the time, I think, though I can no longer find the link there - written by a Down Syndrome self-advocate. She wrote something clear, sentient, and meaningful. I would not judge this person to be worthless or a lesser being. Yet, if anyone is likely to be judged as a lesser being by peole in general, it's someone like her: a "retarded person," physically and cognitively different, or at least you'd probably be able to tell as much in person. So if it would be clearly mistaken to dismiss as a lesser being the "kind" of person who is "normally" dismissed as a lesser being, isn't it also mistaken to dismiss myself as such? How do I know I'm redundant, or valueless? Maybe I haven't come into my own yet. Maybe the concept of value itself is suspect. In any case, if I really want to honor basic human dignity, I'm going to have to honor myself, not reserve for myself - and especially not for "people like me," as they've done nothing to deserve it - some distinguished class of unworthiness.

I wonder what Syndrome could have been like if he'd accepted himself as he was, and actually worked together with or peacefully coexisted with superheroes rather than envying them and wanting to destroy them and take over their niche and outdo them. Could he have used his engineering skills to solve the energy crisis? To build specialized armor for superheroes faced with especially tough villains?

1 comment:

abfh said...

When I was a kid, I thought it would be cool if people could easily change into different kinds of people whenever they felt like it. Not to be more normal, or more special, but just to have different experiences and make life more interesting.