Beyond Us and Them

I’ve been (re)reading a variety of blog posts and articles recently about how introverts and extroverts interact with one another. Some sites made lists of things extroverts should know about introverts or talked about how to best relate to a spouse, family member or workmate who was at the opposite end of the spectrum from your personality.

On one level this type of conversation makes sense. It can be difficult to effectively communicate with someone whose natural state of being is so different from your own. I’ve had my share of misunderstandings as a deep introvert with people who think I need to be brought out of my shell or that being quiet means there’s something wrong.

Many of these misunderstandings could be avoided with clear communication and good interpersonal boundaries, though. If I say that I or something else is X I mean it (let X stand for almost any adjective or adverb that would make sense in that sentence.) Unless proven otherwise I also assume that what others say honestly reflects their thoughts on the matter.

It is easy to create and sustain conflicts when people aren’t honest about where they’re coming from or what they want. It isn’t always easy to be honest about these things to tell the truth. The fear of the unknown can affect what we say or how we say it. Not everyone is going to understand where you’re coming from or why you do the things that you do. What makes sense to me may not seem as clear-cut to you.

There’s a simple explanation behind why this is so: you’re not everyone. That is, what you or I prefer, believe or find useful isn’t always going to be the same thing that other people prefer, believe or find useful. It’s easy to make this leap and while it at times can be helpful to do we’ve grown so accustomed to creating a tug-of-war out of our differences or the labels that fit us that they’re given too much power over our lives.

I’m tired of that. Instead let us:

  • Assume the best.
  • Ask questions.
  • Speak out about our experiences.
  • Listen to those who have drawn other conclusions.
  • Respect boundaries.
  • Think “we” instead of “us” and “them.”

Are you with me? 🙂

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0 Responses to Beyond Us and Them

  1. In general terms, yes, I am with you. That said, being autistic really muddles the playing field. I look at the world soooo differently than a neurotypical person. Even the most elementary conversations can be difficult.

    For example, if my wife or some other person tells me that item x is in front of the kitchen cabinet, it better be exactly there. If it isn’t, I can’t find it. It may turn out to be only a few inches away, but my brain simply doesn’t recognize it if it isn’t precisely where someone told me it was. Of course, the average person would have no trouble whatsoever utilizing the instructions as given to locate item x.

    I realize this is a weird example in terms of your post, but I offer it as an illustration to show how even the most mundane of conversational fodder can innocently turn into miscommunication and conflict. Even when people have the best intentions by trying to as clear and honest as possible, when dealing with an autistic person, it often still isn’t enough.

    (P.S. Let’s see if this comment posts. I think one of Drew’s suggestions helped me to solve the problem I was having with the Disqus Commenting System.)

    • I had not thought of that before! What changes could neurotypical people make when they speak that would help you better understand what they’re saying?

      Glad to hear that you’re able to comment more easily now, by the way.

    • 'Seph

      In general terms, yes, I am with you. That said, being autistic really muddles the playing field. I look at the world soooo differently than a neurotypical person. Even the most elementary conversations can be difficult.

      That’s really interesting.
      My son is autistic too.

  2. Anonymous

    Excellent post! I agree wholeheartedly that on many different levels what works for me may not work for someone else and respecting each other is vital. I also liked what you said about being honest about our needs, etc. Where it can get tricky for me is when I myself am conflicted so I have difficulty stating my truth. And, as the Rambling Taoist points out very accurately, sometimes our differences are so great that understanding is at best difficult and at worst impossible. Nevertheless, I think if we can respect others as well as ourselves, even when the communication gets muddled, we can eliminate or at least diffuse much of the potential anger or other negativity.

    • What do you do when the differences between you and someone else are too great for you to understand where they’re coming from? I’ve been mulling over that question and can’t think of a good response to it. 🙂

      • Anonymous

        I have to admit that is a tough question and I’ve been thinking a lot about it. I have a high level of empathy and so I think I can usually understand where folks are coming from. There are two things which I would have (or at times do have) trouble dealing with personally and those are first, people who advocate violence–that is something I have to admit I just don’t get. And the other thing is people who are absolutely positive that they have the one and only truth–those people I do understand, but when they try to force their truth on me, I do admit to difficulties. My experience, for the most part, results in folks who, no matter how well-meaning or intelligent, just don’t get where I’m coming from, and this usually revolves around my being an introvert. I also suffer from melancholia turning at times to depression and these wonderful people are convinced absolutely that if I would just get out and about I’d be better. There, of course, is some validity in this, but for an introvert the getting out can just make things worse, or at least it does for me, and I have a very hard time trying to explain this as my friends who advocate this course of action are extroverts themselves and they enjoy my company, which is flattering, and they just don’t understand how draining it is to be with others when one is an introvert, especially when I’m already not feeling well. Anyway, I don’t know if this really answered your question or stayed on topic, but I’ll plead my remodeled chaotic brain as an excuse if it didn’t! Thanks, Daphne

        • Wow, we have so much in common.

          I wish I had advice for your melancholia. All I can say is that I understand. 🙂

          • Anonymous

            I too have felt we have a lot in common. The melancholia, I am learning, is part of my personality type (Artisan, type 4, on the enneagram) and with most things, it works best to accept it and take the benefits (creativity, for instance) and “go with the flow.” There are days, though, that just being with it is not as easy as others, esp. if I’m around those who just don’t “get it,” and keep telling me just to “be happy!” Anyway, thanks for understanding! Cheers!

          • I’ve heard of the idea of creativity and melancholia being related before but no longer remember specifics. Where did you first hear of it?

          • Anonymous

            I found it in the Enneagram Personality system and it seems to fit me, and then looking at famous artists in all fields it does seem to be a frequent connection.

  3. Jackie

    I am with you, wholeheartedly!

  4. 'Seph

    I’ve never really liked the simple cut-and-dry idea of introverts and extroverts as being people who are either outgoing or shy.
    … a bit too simplified.

    I see it more as to how an individual processes ideas.
    An introvert (like myself) internalizes everything first. There’s precious little external input. What, in the end, is expressed is quite thought out, processed, and expected to be taken as a final “product”.

    An extrovert (like my wife) needs a sounding-board. Their process necessitates outside influences. What is being expressed is absolutely NOT the final product (and isn’t expected to be taken as such).

    …and that’s usually where the conflict happens.
    My wife listens to me – while projecting her own methodology – assumes I’m looking for a sounding-board to process my ideas/thought/problems/etc. …. which I – as an introvert – am not.
    I, on the other hand, listen to my wife – while projecting my own methodology – assuming she’s totally and completely thought and processed it through – and add little or nothing to what I’m presuming to be her final “product” (Where in fact she’s looking for input and a soundboard.).

    … you can see where these problems of introvert/extrovert leads…
    But, if and when we stop projecting our own methologies upon the world around us, there is an extraordianry ability to process info/ideas/thoughts/etc.

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