Monday, April 2, 2012

The Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships 2

For my write-up today on The Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships, by Temple Grandin and Sean Barron, I will quote something that Temple says on page 6:

"I wasn't shy about putting myself in social situations, or anxious about making mistakes, probably because there were so many, many chances to do this that I got all the practice I needed."

Temple is talking about how she, notwithstanding her autism, has been able to live a fulfilling life with friends and career. One reason was that she as a child in the 1950s-1960s socialized a lot, rather than being by herself watching television or playing on the computer. That way, she was able to learn how to socialize.

I have different reactions to this:

1. The way that Temple describes herself in this book differs somewhat from how her character was depicted in the movie Temple Grandin. In this book, the way that she tells it, she was socially together. She interacted with people, went to their parties, and played games with them, and, when she did something inappropriate (like talking repeatedly about a cigarette that came out of a donkey's rear-end), she was told that she was behaving inappropriately. In the movie, by contrast, she appears to be more socially inept. She does not like going to dinner parties. She greeted a cowboy by asking "Are you a cowboy?" rather than introducing herself and saying she was pleased to meet him. She appeared to be rather isolated (with some exceptions) because her behavior was off-putting to people around her. Which was it? Was Temple socially-competent or socially inept? I do not know. Speaking for myself, as I look back, it was much easier for me to socialize when I was a kid and a teenager than it is for me now, as an adult. I look back and I wonder how I did it.

(UPDATE: Later, she says that she had more social difficulties when she entered high school.)

2. A solution that people often have for those who are socially inept is to throw them into social situations. I wonder if that by itself will work the wonders that people are expecting. I can be in numerous social situations, but, if I do not know how to act in them, I will continue to feel uncomfortable and unsuccessful, and I will tend to withdraw from them. That's why people who struggle socially need a game plan or some positive and constructive outlook towards their situation, rather than just being thrown into a situation and being expected to swim somehow.

3. I liked what Temple said about not being anxious about making mistakes, since she had enough opportunities to practice socializing. That's one reason to socialize a lot: there could be positive moments. Instead, I tend not to socialize too much, with the result that I beat myself up for saying or doing the wrong thing in the rare occasions that I do socialize. Another point I'd like to make is that people will not necessarily give you another chance: if you make a social mistake, it's not easy for you to recover from that with certain people and to have a fresh start. But some people are more understanding.

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