Monday, November 22, 2010

Compensatory gifts in flawed people.

Isaac Asimov wrote a short story, in one of his robot series, about a defective robot that could create works of art, generating much income for its owner. A robot engineer happened to be visiting the owner, recognized that it had a defect, and, not knowing that the defect was tied into the creation of the art, "fixed" the robot on the spot, thinking he was doing the owner a favor. However, by fixing the defect he removed the robot's ability to create art. (It might have been in the "I Robot" series. Does anyone know what the story's name was?)

Moroni mentions something related to this in Ether, about weaknesses and strengths, in chapter 12, verses 27 and 28:

27 And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.
28 Behold, I will show unto the Gentiles their weakness, and I will show unto them that faith, hope and charity bringeth unto me — the fountain of all righteousness.

At first, I thought that the passage was only talking about a weakness that is overcome or cured. But an additional meaning may be that the weakness can turn out to contain a strength in and of itself. The "weak thing becoming strong" could actually be a new or revealed use for the weak thing, which like the defective robot, might produce something of worth. (I believe this is a possible additional meaning to the text, not the sole meaning.)

One of my weaknesses is a lack of understanding in social relationships, how people interact and communicate. I'm a literalist. Hints and implications are usually invisible to me, and when I do detect them, they are frustrating, and sometimes offensive. If you want to communicate something to me, you have to state it directly, explicitly, and in complete sentences. I'm better than I used to be when I was younger, but in general I don't understand non-verbal communication. And what little I have picked up has been a hard-earned skill, not something that came naturally. And vice versa, what I think is obvious in a given context is rarely obvious to others.

To compensate for that I tend to belabor points in my writing, repeating a subject/object in order to avoid pronouns which require an assumption of what the correct antecedent is.

I haven't been officially diagnosed, but looking back, I believe I've had Asperger's Syndrome my whole life. Being a form of autism, Asperger's is thought to be organic in nature. But I also think, at least in my case, childhood trauma, toxic parents, and a dysfunctional family played a major part in my lack of relationship skills and communication skills.

Has my poor ability to make and sustain friendships/relationships been improved over the years? No. I still have few friends, and don't do a good job of maintaining the friendships that I have made.

However, the new or revealed use or "strength" found in all this is the ability to promulgate gospel material via the short-term contact.

By lacking either the innate or society-imposed social programming that most people seem to have, I also lack the thing that blocks most people from initiating a religious conversation with a stranger in a public place. Hence, this defect of being socially "stupid" has a beneficial side-effect, and it was only discovered/revealed in the setting of trying to serve the Lord and others in a gospel context.

Conversely, many people with good social skills have as a weakness an absence of the ability or confidence to initiate a conversation with strangers. That's where humility comes in. As I understand it, the thing that blocks people from talking to strangers about religion is fear of being thought of as stupid or un-cool.

While growing up I was most often unable to make myself understood, and I constantly frustrated others by not being able to understand them. Therefore, as a survival skill, I learned to worry very little about what others thought about me. Pride is still one of my big flaws, but I seem to be used to others thinking I'm different or weird.

For you folks who don't have Asperger's, this may be the key to talking to strangers, learning to stop worrying that others might think you're stupid or un-cool for believing in the restored gospel.



At 11/22/2010 04:05:00 PM, Blogger Paul said...

Nice post.

I'm fascinated by Aspergers Syndrome. Our son had many symptoms, but his doctor diagnosed him somewhat differently -- a shades of gray, thing, I think. Because we started early, some of his social-skill challenges were addressed with therapy, but at 14 he is very, very literal still.

I think your insight that our weaknesses become strengths not by being overcome but by becoming strengths in an of themselves is a great one.

At 11/23/2010 10:22:00 AM, Blogger Bookslinger said...

A key to dealing with literalism is that he can learn social interaction by thinking of interactions in terms of formulas, rules, and patterns. One can create/discover and document a series of nested (and it seems complicated) series of "if... then..." rules.

For instance, a couple of the rules I learned are:

1. If a person makes eye contact with you, they are giving you permission to speak with them.

2. If a person makes eye contact with you, and smiles at the same time, they are inviting you to speak with them.

The problem is that among "normal" people, the rules go without saying. They're taken as commonly understood. But for Asperger's people, or others on the autistic spectrum, they're not. They need to be specifically taught and learned how to be applied.

And when "normal" people do attempt to verbally describe the rules of social interaction, they tend to use "soft" words (iffy, wishy-washy, non-specific, non-concrete words) that have no literal meaning to an Asperger's person.

I would hope the job of parenting an Asperger's child would be to convert the unwritten rules into a literal form that can be understood by the child.

I've looked at, and there are a few books for parents of Asperger's (or autism spectrum) children, and books for adult Asperger's people.

Literalism also has strengths in careers that are technically oriented and in the hard sciences.

At 11/23/2010 02:54:00 PM, Blogger Michaela Stephens said...

This has given me a lot to think about. If the Lord can use your weaknesses to spread Book of Mormons around, then maybe the Lord can use my weaknesses to do an equal amount of good in some way.


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