Saturday, April 20, 2019

Tiptoe cautiously through doors.

I recently finished the book "Thinking in Pictures" by Temple Grandin. I read "Animals in Translation" years ago, and enjoyed it so much that I wanted to have more information about Temple's unique way of thinking and interpreting the world. Both books provide insight into the way people with autism think. Like a lot of non-autistic people, I am a verbal thinker, which I didn't know or understand until Temple Grandin explained the way which she organizes her thoughts and ideas like playing back a video. Her explanation of this superpower is fascinating. I had no idea that some brains work in the way that she describes. How could I? I lack a firm grasp on even my own.

Both of Temple's books serve as a reminder that humans process information in vastly different ways. It is important to remember that we can't assume what another person's thoughts or experience might be. Our processes are different, and our interpretation of inputs and variables are different. We can learn an enormous amount from listening to different types of thinkers - but as a whole, I am afraid we do not prioritize this. We value one type of thinking, and we allow one type of personality to gain and hold power over all of the rest of us. It causes suffering. We routinely ignore valuable insight from fringe thinkers because we don't focus on how to communicate better and accept new information and ideas from people who are natural experts on matters which we don't even understand the possible critical importance of. The world baffles me. I feel like I am trying to jog through waist-deep syrup. Did I put the syrup there, or is it institutional? Why do we value a money-based measure of economic health, rather than trying to maximize happiness and access to a sense of community and wellbeing? I'm glad that these questions have been asked, but I am not confident that improvement will be swiftly forthcoming.

Temple Grandin said something that I think about all the time. She describes in Thinking in Pictures how she visualizes a new chapter in life as going through a door. She will visualize a specific door which has significance to a period of her life, and imagine herself walking through this doorway to represent entering a new era, or the completion of a big project. When graduating from college, she pictured a specific door on campus that led to an area which she found peaceful.

Even as a verbal thinker, I am finding utility in using door imagery in my own life. I don't use images of specific doors like Temple does, and for me the image of passing through a door does not represent a major milestone, but rather the simple act of trying anything new. There is a measure of calculation and discomfort every time I try something new. Because of this, I tend to repeat the same activities, and go to the same places which are familiar. In spite of this tendency, I recognize the value of opening new doors - something helpful or wonderful could be behind any new door, and the risk involved to see is usually negligible. I am a horrible organizer. It would be easy for me to get stuck in a loop if I didn't make a conscious effort to force myself to sometimes open new doors. I don't explore - I do a cost-benefit analysis, and conclude that exploration would be in my best interest. I require more time to acclimate. I am a late bloomer and a slow reader.

I have been opening some new doors recently. One door was as simple as finding a new bagel and coffee place which I like. Pretty easy. New doors are not always hard to open, but it helps a lot if there is another person to walk through a door with me, who also has a catalog of tons of fun doors, and they will hold your hand as you tiptoe cautiously through.

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