I had a whole bundle of fun at work with a self-advocating Anger Management Issues Sufferer. He could not control his outburst because HE HAD ANGER MANAGEMENT ISSSSSSUUUUUESSS, as we routinely heard him bellow as he went around waving his arms and banging stuff. Apparently, his need for our tolerance for his problem eclipsed our need for a non-threatening work environment. They also eclipsed the needs of another employee, who had social anxiety issues… so while his outbursts would shake us all up for minutes to hours, they would have her suffering for days.
She also had a condition. Her condition, sadly, meant that she wasn’t willing or able to make a fuss about her condition. Thing is, Anger Dude wouldn’t have had a chance in hell to find out, for the simple reason that he never bothered asking. He never asked any of us if we had any special needs. He never asked any of us if we were meeting our regular needs; how we felt about his behaviour; how it was affecting us; if we needed anything to mitigate its impacts on us. And he never, ever said sorry. He didn’t have to, because he had a condition, didn’t we UNDERSTAND?!?!
That didn’t sit very well with me at all. I though the underlying principle of the whole tolerance/anti-discrimination/equality thing was to make sure that everyone’s needs were met. This seemed to be something else entirely. This seemed to be saying that one person’s special needs could trump every one else’s regular or special needs. That his needs weren’t only “special” because they were different, but also in the sense of being more important.
That kind of attitude is not unique to him. My friend Eddie wrote this in the context of people advocating for Socially Awkward people:
“The way I see it, a lot of this boils down to how the people want to be treated. Jerks/creeps/manipulators/whatever want special treatment. Socially awkward people just want to be treated normally.
In many cases it seems to be identifiable by who benefits most from how they are behaving. (…) Generally people who are socially awkward will stop doing whatever it is that they are doing when someone points it out, even if they don’t know why they’re doing it wrong. That includes leaving the group. They most certainly don’t benefit from their behavior.
A jerk will try to make you change your behavior to benefit them. They’ll try to make you look like the antagonist here. They try to spin everything to their benefit.”
(Thank you, Eddie.)
Some advocates for Socially Awkward people are not asking for them to be treated “normally” despite of their difficulties. They are asking for special treatment because of their difficulties. They are asking for other people to subsume their own needs, because Socially Awkward people’s needs are specialler. They are trying to gain a benefit from their difficulties. Cui bono? They do. That doesn’t sit well with me.
The tactics they use to get there bother me even more. When I started to pay attention to them, I realised that many of them are bog-standard manipulative/predatorial tactics, in particular:
- Forced Teaming. Making the problem our shared problem. “We need to learn how to support X people…” Do we? Do we really? Says who, says where? They’re unilaterally restructuring the relationship to benefit themselves.
- Typecasting. “I didn’t think you were one of those bullies who like to oppress the afflicted.” “If you’re not completely cold-hearted, you will…” Nope. You don’t get to tell me that if I don’t do what you want me to, then I must be a horrible person. You don’t get to tell me that if I don’t agree with you 100%, then I must support the opposite of what you say. You don’t get to tell me that if I’m not an apple, then I’m an aardvark.
- Straightforward emotional blackmail: “If you advocate for anyone else’s rights, you will be directly responsible for the suffering of these innocent wee bunnies.” For instance, talking to people about creeps will make them so paranoid that everyone remotely socially awkward will be dragged to the edge of the village and stoned to death, and it will be my fault.
These tactics are not necessarily underhanded. Forced teaming, for instance, can be used to pull people together in order to engage everyone in a joint cause. People seem to be forgetting this, but in a democracy it is genuinely better to have people inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in. Reminding people of common goals (personal safety, clean streets, three acres, mule) can make us all more flexible in how we go about reaching them. However, this doesn’t seem to be the case here. It is not my goal to include people into my life whose behaviour I find difficult to manage. It may well be their goal to be included in my life, but that doesn’t make it a shared goal. It definitely does not make the management of their behaviour a shared responsibility.
More than that, there’s something grossly lacking from these efforts: any sense of reciprocity. I’ve yet to have any of them manifest any kind of interest in anyone else’s rights/needs/wants. I’ve yet to have any of them ask me how the impact of their needs and limitations can be mitigated. I’ve yet to have any of this kind of advocate mention the advantages to including the people their are supporting into our lives. All they’ve been pushing is their rights/needs/wants. If anyone dares resist, they get attacked for this alleged iniquity. All stick and no carrot.
It may be malicious. It may simply be the result of hyper-focusing on their own issues. Either way, I don’t want to play their game.