Dear Santa Claus:
This year, I have tried to be a good boy. Our family made some great memories, and the children feverishly write and re-write their Wish Lists with wide eyes. Although I’ve endured some significant health threats, I find myself humbled by the experiences. In 2015, I want to ask you for some very special gifts – gifts for me and for the world.
Will you please bring me solid definitions? Many of our advocacy goals wilt against undefined or misinterpreted words. We fight wars with bullets and words, and inflict more harm with words, especially on social media. Without shared understandings, we risk continued fragmentation in any advocacy path we take.
Gender and racial identity seems as fluid as a rushing river. Too many people cling to words like “man” or “woman” or “marriage” or “race” or “special needs” without an acknowledged definition, or dangerously presuppose their definition reigns supreme. Perception becomes reality. A lot of our words used to describe a human condition take root in medical definitions. Laws try to reinterpret these definitions with little success. Worse, some words pre-date codified laws yet have semi-religious or spiritual connotations which not everyone shares. We lack cohesive, shared goals on topics that divide us because of unclear definitions. Will you please help us acknowledge language barriers within a shared spoken tongue? While we may still disagree about action or outcomes, we may do more good works if we can first recognize glaring deficiencies in our vocabulary.
Will you please bring me more compassion, too? We seem to be running low, as a society. Some groups seek racial or spiritual equality by tearing down non-members. Sometimes they recruit young people into their campaigns of prejudice despite new laws or better understandings of scientific fact. For example, a lot of information exists to discredit a long-standing argument about vaccinations’ link to autism. However, a parent of a newly-diagnosed child with autism needs compassion and support, not scientific pie charts and lectures. Despite any amount of overwhelming evidence, I cannot flaunt data to a parent whose child talked and walked prior to a vaccination; they deserve and need answers to solving their own bereavement of a childhood that may not be as typical as planned. They need solutions to new challenges in communication, in education, in self-care, and maybe many more areas. We need definitions, Santa, but also the compassion to wield those definitions. Children need more compassionate adults who stop behaving like entitled children themselves.
Without sounding greedy, may we also have more leadership who better understands these first two requests? It would be great if such a leader were also autistic, because we lack representation. Our Founding Fathers fought a great war because of such gaps in government; we cannot expect neurotypical leaders to fully understand the economic and social variables influenced by an autistic life. Maybe having equal representation could mean the same moneys get shared. A recent study now suggests that autism impacts 1 in 45 people. Knowing that only 1-in-10 autistic adults is currently gainfully employed should draw more eyes into long term planning.
Instead, we go to Twitter to decry how #BlackLivesMatter using 140 characters or less. Again, because of definitions, even this social movement finds itself mired in confusion and political trappings. Too many people misread the slogan as: “ONLYBlackLivesMatter.” Conversely, nobody would hashtag a phrase like: TooManyBlackLivesHaveBeenLostToNonBlackPoliceBrutalitySoWillSomeonePleasePayAttentionToQuestionableGovernemntalSponsoredGenocideBecauseBlackLivesMatterToo. Although cumbersome, this statement more accurately describes the Black Nationalist movement rooted within #BlackLivesMatter. When an unarmed 6 year old boy with autism was murdered in his car by police, I hoped that #BlackLivesMatter could be an ally. Since the boy was non-Black, I can expect no help from Black Nationalists, according to their own website. Add to the fact that the alleged murderer IS Black, I cannot expect help from #BlackLivesMatter, regardless of their mission against armed and reckless police with personal agendas. When #BlackLivesMatter hashtags claimed recent Parisian terrorism was a white-on-white crime, I recalled Malcolm X’s response to President Kennedy’s assassination. I also remembered a great poem about segregated victimization and abdicated defenses during World War II. When will they come for people with autism, and who will be left to stand with us? Honestly, we should rally as human beings when any threats seems to come for any one of us, regardless of height, weight, pigmentation, or self-realized identity. Somehow, by misappropriating now-ambiguous words like “white” or “woman,” we dehumanize the situation where HUMAN rights are concerned.
Black. White. Autistic. Person with Autism. Boy. Murder. By itself, each word may solicit a call to action. Blend these same words together in any combination, and some people will deny help they could give. Some people will be confused by what we need when we ask for help. Again, Santa, we lack shared definitions and enough compassion to supersede or suspend our mortal-made definitions. This Christmas, will you please bring me better operative definitions and shared compassion? I promise to share!
When a fan visits us at a comic book convention and identify themselves as “high-functioning,” what am I supposed to do with this abusive identity? Should I hold up a picture of Albert Einstein and correct their interpretation of “high-functioning?” Should I point out how, despite my own autism diagnosis, I’ve sold more published books and received more international awards than 90% of the people coming to see me? While harshly accurate, this approach does nothing to build our community, yet perpetually bragging how people should automatically presume more competence than our peers is equally damaging. Again, definitions and lack of compassion to use those words is harming our people, our country, and our shared world. We find ourselves grasping at any words to individualize us, and neglect our own self improvements. We expect words to clearly define who, what, when, where, why, and how we are…but not everyone uses these same definitions. Santa, my health and time spent understanding more about advocacy has sorely impacted our own production of comic books and toys. I need better understanding of socially-divisive words, and more compassion and humility to use words that forge real progress. I apologize in advance if I mis-spoke (mis-typed?) words that elicit anger, contempt, disgust, or fear. I am just a man, and am trying to describe what I want for the holidays- a better world, but forgive my fumbles with ambiguous words.
Thanks, Santa Claus. Please be safe when travelling this year! We’ll set out some cookies and milk for you, as always.