Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Truth?

The other day, my daughter’s feelings were hurt, but it didn’t have as much to do with the content as how the news was presented.  See, the person tried to spare her feelings, which led to a misinterpretation that, when cleared up, hurt worse than the original news would have if delivered in a straightforward manner. 

This led me to think about other such encounters.  Times when I give papers back to students with platitudes of “nice try,” “good idea but not quite there,” and other such niceties when what I really should be saying is “I’m sorry, but you didn’t get this right this time around, but, hey, it is an academic setting so let’s figure out how you can learn this better and you can try again.”  Times when someone has given a friend a gift of something my friend doesn’t really care for, but being the socially respectful person she is, she gushes over the gift only to have the giver take time and money to purchase the gift over and over again for this friend because social graces prevented her from saying, “thank you so much for the thought but next time I’d just like to grab a cup of coffee with you and catch up instead.” Or managers who complain that their employees never improve after feedback, but the feedback was so diluted to prevent hurting anyone’s feelings that in all likelihood the employee had no idea that they even had something to work on.  And the examples go on. 

I started to recall some of the conversations that I have had with my son in recent months.  If he receives a gift he already he has, he says, “thanks but I already got this.”  Or, he is rather famous for saying “why does everyone get me Mario stuff?”  It isn’t a criticism, but a simple statement of fact.  He loves Mario, and he finds it interesting that everyone else knows that too.  As for repeated gifts, well it may initially stin,g but I’ve found that I’d rather return something he already has than to have spent the money on a gift he isn’t going to play with.  Same thing goes when I fix something new for dinner.  My husband and daughter are usually polite with their responses unless I have really concocted a total and complete disaster (what can I say; my cooking ideas far exceed my cooking skills), and when left with positive feedback I’m likely to add the recipe to my collection.  Whereas Caden simply tells me “don’t like it” and again while there is that momentary sting, I also know not to waste my time making the recipe again because it wasn’t a hit.  One last example, I recently cut my hair.  I’ve never really had short hair so this was a big change for me.  Every single one of my students and colleagues commented on how cute it was or how much they liked it or how bold it was that I cut my hair.  Caden’s the only one who said “actually mommy I like your long hair.” I know he was just being honest; I don’t know if the others were or if they were just saying the socially polite/expected thing to say.

It’s ironic to me: individuals, like my son, are often criticized because autism has interfered with or prevented them from developing a social filter.  In a literal world, there is no room for little white lies.  At the same time, honesty isn’t said to hurt feelings or make anyone feel bad.  Caden genuinely appreciates every gift that he gets, and he’ll even say later “wow that lady was nice to me with that present.”  He isn’t being ungrateful when he comments that he already has it; it is just a fact.  He does in fact already have it.  Or he doesn’t like the new recipe or the haircut.  At the same time, if he says something is “awesome” then I also know that compliment is genuine and I don’t have to second guess what he is really thinking.  I guess that’s where I’m having trouble seeing him as being the one with “the problem.”

Think about it for a moment: what would the world be like if people just told the truth?  How much better personally and professionally could we become if we knew what we needed to work on and how much higher would our confidence be if we knew there was no such thing as an empty compliment?  A “great job” really meant a job well done.  It wouldn’t have to be a rude or condescending world; I watch Caden deliver news and facts in his sweet, innocent just-calling-them-like-I-see-them kind of way.  He didn’t say, “whoa mommy, you look horrific with that short hair,” he just said “mommy I like your hair long.”  How refreshing would it be to say honestly, “actually I don’t feel so good today” when you are asked the standard question of “how are you today?”  When someone asked how something was and you received an answer (positive or constructively stated) you would really have an honest assessment to work from.  Kinda seems like a breath of fresh air and just maybe one of those lessons that neurotypicals could learn from the “socially challenged.” 

I mean at the end of the day how many parents can really say that their kid doesn’t lie and while communication may be challenged, I always know that the answer that I receive from Caden is the whole truth and nothing but the truth.