Can you relate?
But sometimes such comments can get rather incongruous. In response to my last two posts, a few people seemed to think (1) that I might be prejudiced against poor whites, Southern whites, and/or hillbillies because I used dialect in describing small-town ignorant attitudes, and (2) regarding my discussion of the Ghost Dance of 1890, that I shouldn't make historical analogies that suggest it is possible for the average person to relate to anybody except whites.
I don't disagree with the general observation that a person cannot fully relate to the lives of those who belong to a different nationality, race, time period, and so forth. However, it's also not possible to fully relate to the perspective of the guy who lives down the block. The range of human experience is vast. I believe that it is not only appropriate, but essential, to try to broaden our understanding of how our lives relate to those of others, even though such efforts will always fall short. When we identify ourselves primarily with one group (whether it is defined in terms of race or anything else) and assume that we cannot relate to anyone outside the group, our lives become much the poorer for it.
I'll give you an illustration of where such assumptions can lead. This is a true story, unfortunately. I have an older relative who lives in a part of the city that is no longer safe. There are frequent drug deals and people getting shot at the corner gas station. He won't even consider leaving the area, however, because he only feels comfortable in an all-black neighborhood. If he moved somewhere else, he might have white neighbors; and he is firmly convinced that he can't relate to white people and that it is dangerous to even try. He has on occasion lectured younger family members that they must never socialize with white co-workers after hours because it might just be a ploy to lure them to some isolated area and lynch them. The Internet is never going to change his views because he is highly unlikely to visit any websites that might challenge his prejudices.
When I blog (and in other areas of life too), I try to keep in mind that whatever assumptions I make about other people are likely to be wrong. Of course, any interaction with or discussion of others must necessarily involve making assumptions of one sort or another, given the fact that there's no way to know everything that might be part of another person's thoughts and experiences. As we go through life, we constantly adjust and recalculate our assumptions; but they never disappear entirely, no matter how well we may think we know another person.
To be clear, the previous sentence refers to people in general, not just to autistics. I don't believe that the need to adjust one's assumptions is unique to autistics or that there is some sort of magical social superpower enabling non-autistics to read minds. People may be more accurate in making assumptions about those who have neurological traits similar to their own; but that also can be said about people of the same gender, nationality, or any other subset of human experience.
The extent to which it is possible to relate to others always depends on a great variety of circumstances, some of them changing from one moment to the next. And it is by necessity an imperfect process, full of misunderstandings. As we begin a new decade, however, I am hopeful that the personal connections created by blogging and the Internet will lead to more awareness of social assumptions and more vigilance in correcting them, while recognizing that there will always be more to learn.