I’ve not been blogging for a while due to a series of minor infections – when you’re not running on 100% capacity as a priest you have to prioritise the basics – and it may be a while before I’m posting regularly, but this thought came along.
Why is it that other people don’t do certain things?
Recently, I asked one of my trusted friends for perspective, because I had to fill our a self-assessment form which asked about my social weaknesses. “When you eat soup in company,” she said, “don’t dunk your bread in it. After all, you don’t see other people doing that, do you?”
I learned two things from this conversation.
First, I don’t tend to notice what it is that other people don’t do. I don’t think I’ve ever paid attention to how other people eat soup.
Second, my friend (and therefore, if she is representative, a fair percentage of humanity) get an icky emotional reaction when they see someone dunking.
Soup has never come up as a subject before, but at seminary, one student challenged me about dunking my toast in my morning coffee. At the time, my response was to always try to sit at a different table from him, so he didn’t have to watch me. But in hindsight, I think the message I was supposed to get was that most people find that icky and would be uncomfortable around me.
It’s in cases like this that we Aspies might be at a multiple disadvantage. First, if I did notice someone dunking in coffee or soup, I wouldn’t have a bad emotional reaction to that. Second, since I’m not good at reading other people’s emotions, I am unlikely to notice that someone else is uncomfortable about the way that I am eating. Third, since I don’t naturally seek out other people’s behaviour patterns as examples of what to do, or avoid doing, I’m not going to have a sense that most people don’t do that. And fourth, if no one tells you that most people do react badly, then even if you do notice that no-one else is dunking, you wouldn’t know why. Maybe most people simply don’t like to dunk.
My friend also pointed out that not eating part of a meal prepared for you shows disrespect for the time and effort that the person went into making it for you. This is a good example of the different assumptions that Aspies and typical human beings might make when it comes to preparing a meal… and it all depends on the Golden Metarule which I mentioned this time last year.
The Aspie Way
- People might have allergies or simply not like particular food. I don’t want to have to eat food I don’t like so why should I put anyone else in that position?
- I want my guests to enjoy their meal.
- I ask my guests what they do and don’t like to eat.
- I make sure that I prepare food that my guests like.
- If something goes wrong with my cooking, I want my guests to tell me so that I can avoid making the same mistake next time. How else could I be sure to prepare something they will really like?
The Typical Human Way
- Most people like the adventure of trying something new or unexpected.
- The host puts a lot of effort into giving the guests a surprise.
- The guests show they appreciate the effort by eating all the food, smiling, whatever they really think of it.
- They all say “Thank you for a lovely meal.”
I was recently at a bread-and-soup lunch for Christian leaders. For the first time in my life – and I’m now in my 40s – I paid attention to how other people eat. The bread was in the form of sliced baguettes. Of the six others on my table, four put dry bread in their mouths. Two took small pieces of baguette crust and dipped them in the soup.
It was fascinating, paying attention to this and noticing what other people do. A reminder that my way of being an Aspie includes no desire to conform to other people’s actual patterns of behaviour, no instinct to monitor that behaviour, and no awareness of non-verbal signs of fellow diners are reacting to my behaviour.