It has come to my attention that, on this blog and in other places, I’ve been throwing around words like “normal” and “aspie” quite a lot. As always, I like to be as exact as possible in my definitions of words, so here again is another opportunity to explore word meanings. One of my favorite hobbies.
I can only speak for myself and my experiences. This is true for everyone. None of us can crawl inside another person’s head and understand what another person is going through, or what an author truly meant with the words they put to paper. I often wonder what the world would look like from the perspective of others, but I only have speculation and guesses based on my own limited observations. What I can describe are my own experiences, and how I believe them to be unique or different from the descriptions or behaviors of others. I often speak of “normal” people as opposed to myself, the “aspie”. Another term used by the Aspie community is NT, short for neurotypical, but whatever the term, the meaning is similar. The words are labels which we use to group some things together with other things based on how they are alike, and separate them from other things which are different.
Of course words like “normal” are impossible to define. Indeed, when I was in school and people would tell me to be more “normal”, I would invariably ask them to define what “normal” was. I never got a satisfactory answer, and I often got no answer at all, but I never got the same answer twice. I came to dislike such words. I concluded, quite logically I thought, that a word with no objective meaning was, in fact, meaningless. They were simply like a mental garbage dump into which all of those irrational thoughts and feelings that plague humanity are placed into. Unable to live with the silence of uncertainty, irrational people simply put a word where none is needed or there is no useful way to describe something.
Yet, here I am, throwing the word about just as haphazardly as any. Why the change? I like to think that I’ve grown wiser as I’ve grown older, and while I was always a very clever and insightful thinker, I was also rather stubborn and even somewhat arrogant. The idea that anything that couldn’t be understood objectively is not worth understanding seems rather foolish in hindsight. I was focused only on my own point of view, my own ideas. I did not yet fully appreciate the importance of understanding other points of view, or understanding the points of view of others. Indeed, words like normal or weird or common or rare or simple or complex or easy or difficult all share one common thread. They mean different things to different people. Their meaning is dependent on one’s point of view. Something normal in one culture is strange in another. What is simple to one person seems complicated to the next. Understanding words like these requires understanding the person as much as the word itself. If you do not understand some things about the person, it is impossible to understand their words.
Perhaps that is why such words caused me such difficulty in youth. Seeing others point of view does not come at all naturally to me. It is a skill which has required a great deal of effort to perfect. I don’t really feel things like culture, peer pressure, nationality. They exist to me simply as words in a psychology textbooks. I understand them just as I understand the Pythagorean theorem or Newton’s laws, but I don’t really ‘feel’ them on an emotional level. I honestly never understood why some of my peers wanted to do ridiculous things like smoking or drinking underage or performing ridiculous stunts in order to be cool. I tended to dismiss such things as ‘irrational’, and ignore them. I’ve never really felt any patriotism or sense of heritage. It is an area of human experience which is simply a blank to me. In order for me to understand another point of view, I must really clear my thoughts and imagine what I might do in their position. I know this is not entirely adequate, as I cannot imagine thinking as they do or feeling as they do. I can only imagine the things I would feel and think in that circumstance. Perhaps this is equally true of all of us, whether we be aspie or neurotypical or black or white or rich or poor or any other label we wish to use.
Even so, these words do have meaning, and I have come to believe that understanding them in their various meanings helps me understand other people in a way that is difficult for me to do naturally. So, when I use words like “normal”, I use them only after profound amount of reflection. I use them, I believe, as we all do, to describe the innate subjectivity of our human condition. I use them to describe what I can’t entirely define but I know to be true. I am not like others, and they are not like me. Their thoughts and ideas are their own and not like mine. I suppose anyone could use the word normal to describe others, and anyone could use it to describe oneself, and all would be equally correct and equally incorrect. Understanding the words means understanding the perspective that they depend upon. They task us to look beyond ourselves, to consider others, to move beyond simply memorizing definitions and stringing words together. For me, they have led to a greater understanding of the importance of perspective.