Once upon a time, I trusted everyone. The cashier at the grocery store was the perfect audience for a monologue about my rock collection. When I got my hair styled for Grade 2 school pictures, the stylist was fair game for stories about my kitten crawling all over me and sticking her butt in my face. I was even surprised when, after proudly telling my mum how my hair appointment went, she reacted with mild horror when I revealed the subject matter of the conversation that had transpired.
Apparently, you’re not supposed to talk about things like that in public, to strangers. ((Another) note to self…)
By then, I had (painfully) discovered that kids my age were not Safe. They didn’t like me. I had much more success with adults (except for teachers, of course). But other adults were benign; they never made fun of me.
Then, various situations occurred, all of them too minor to recall specifically, but I remember slowly learning that you couldn’t trust everybody.
That always came as a surprise to me. What do you mean you can’t trust everybody? Aren’t most people good inside?
All I knew was that I was. I never intentionally hurt anyone. I didn’t play pranks or spread gossip or talk mean about anyone behind their back.
Didn’t the rest of the world operate the same way?
I was increasingly disheartened to find out that, No. It didn’t.
And then, the unthinkable happened. I won’t reveal many details (they’re public–and infamous–enough), but my family, namely my parents, were the victims of a fairly significant legal scandal. The perpetrators had been what we thought were close family friends.
The whole thing was a sham, a setup, an illusion. We’d been played. To the tune of a half million dollars. Our family wasn’t exactly made of money. I’m shocked we didn’t lose our house. I’m shocked that the stress didn’t tear apart my parents’ marriage.
It was a coat-penetrating cold February afternoon when we traipsed through the headquarters of the suddenly-defunct company. The Glamour Shot photo, taken only the month before, that this family friend and business partner had requested, stared back at me from the bookcase shelf, right at eye level, as if my pre-betrayed self stood there, innocently taunting me. I felt like a shadow, hollowed out and gray.
I was 15.
That marked the day I became “guilty” of fulfilling the second half of the stereotypical Asperger’s/autistic black and white thinking; I had flipped the switch, from Trust Everyone to Trust No One
And from that day on, I didn’t.
To me, the world had become a desolate, unfriendly landscape of potentially hostile locusts, waiting like Venus fly traps for you to sail over them a little too low or too slowly and–yoink! You’re trapped at their mercy while they extract what they can out of you.
That’s how I saw the world, and I approached it as such.
I don’t exactly remember when I began to soften, just a little, just enough to allow (certain) people the chance to prove themselves to me, but it took a while.
Regardless, it happened, somewhere along the line. This is much more self-preservative than the arrogance that it sounds like – I finally gave certain segments of the world the time of day. If, up until that point, I had been “guilty” of black and white thinking, I was beginning to learn how to see the potential beauty in the gray.
These days, I tend to “test” (neurotypical) people. (I’m referring to those I meet in everyday life.)
I might drip them a small tidbit that, although it might seem personal, is actually rather benign. I wait and watch.
I make note of how they initially respond, scrutinizing micro-expressions and minute changes in demeanor.
I observe what they do with that information, how they use it, how they treat me afterward, whether or not it makes the rounds back to me via someone else.
I also listen for other commentary to circulate back to me, and I make mental note of who it comes from. An inner circle of people often serve as my eyes and ears. And my brain serves as a massive databasic spreadsheet. And as someone on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum, I can certainly hook that up – I can remember those details; my brain leaves me little choice.
If they handle the informational tidbit properly, they begin to build trust. The trust is earned. It does not come easily, because it’s no longer my default setting. I can’t afford it to be.
I’ve learned that certain people can be trusted with some types of information, but not other types. Part of my learning curve has consisted of tabulating who can be trusted with which types of information and trying to keep it all straight.
This means that I don’t trust anyone right away. And even after the trust has been built, I have yet to trust anyone 100%. Past experience has proven that practice to be potentially devastating.
Every time I share even the smallest tidbit, I take a proportionate risk. The more significant (read: potentially damaging) the tidbit, the higher the risk.
What do I risk? I risk objection. I risk rejection. I risk the ripples and ricochets of aftermath. I risk jagged debris that proverbially cut into my feet as I try to keep walking, trying to hold my head high, trying to hide the embarrassment and shame, trying to live down the unsavory tidbit. I risk the tidbit spreading to others, filtered through the bias and potential selective-reporting habits of the one spreading the information around.
Sometimes, that risk is worth it; I roll the dice and a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow materializes. Other times, it’s not worth it, and bad things happen (temporarily), like shutdowns and the like. Such is life; win some, lose some, and hopefully the gains outweigh the losses.
That’s everybody’s goal; Asperger’s/autistic people don’t have the monopoly on that. But it’s often a little harder for us to attain, because we tend to be genuine people at heart, and we often operate as though the rest of the world is on the same page, which often, it’s not.
I still think that honesty is the best policy. I’m just more cautious about who I’m honest with. 🙂
Making Friends ~ December 15, 2016
Asperger’s / Autism and Black and White Thinking ~ March 8, 2017
Risks, Rules, and Relationships ~ Autism and Expectations ~ May 13, 2016