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Getting the wrong end of the stick...and waving it

In other words, taking something completely the wrong way or misunderstanding what your own senses are telling you. It's very easily done, can cause great confusion and is often exasperating to everyone else.

A small example: I was sitting in my car when I heard a man whistling, the kind you do to get someone's attention. He kept repeating it and I was looking to see where he was. A few seconds later I spotted him. It was an older gent, in a bright pink jacket with a shopping bag. He was moving along the pavement at speed, doing a jig as he went. He was bent slightly, laughing and was focused on the man walking ahead of him, who was oblivious to being followed.

The older man was speeding up and would soon reach his target. He had his head lower now and if he didn't slow down, he'd barrel right into the back of the man in front. I waited to see what would happen, wondering if he was going to jump on him, or head butt him, or even hit him with the carrier bag. Whatever, he certainly looked like he was having fun.

Then, at the last second, the man in front crossed the road and the older gent's target was revealed to be a woman waiting at the very end of the road, patiently watching him do his jig as he came towards her. He slowed in front of her, laughing and gave her a little bow, then the shopping bag.

Everything he had done was for her. He had whistled to get her attention then entertained her with his running jig. He never had any interest in the innocent man walking in front of him and, luckily, the man didn't hear him or look behind at the wrong moment.

All became clear, this time, and it made sense. If I had looked past the man in front, I might have seen the woman and understood, but once I had in my mind the scenario I thought was right, I stopped looking for another explanation. As far as I was concerned, the older gent was about to spring some kind of surprise on the other man and even though this behaviour was out of the ordinary, it still never occurred to me to look for a different answer.

It's a small example of how wrong you can be, or at least, how wrong I can be. I am often wrong like this, either getting mixed up with what people are telling me or want me to do or coming up with reasons for things which bear little resemblance to the truth. And all of this is complicated by my tendency to choose an outlandish reason, or response, instead of an ordinary one.

I mean, why would a gentleman of a certain age jig along the pavement to jump on a stranger? Is it not more rational that I had missed a detail and he had a good reason for acting as he did? Does this mean I see it as more reasonable, in my own world view, for him to do something odd than something normal?

Maybe, although I tend to think people behave very oddly a lot of the time and they're not really doing anything extraordinary. It's just they seem odd to me, so I don't file it away as common behaviour, even if it is.

A few years ago, I was sitting in my regular Saturday morning lesson with a student I knew well. It was pouring down outside, the kind of heavy rain that makes you feel it never does anything else and other weather exists only on the Moon. It was Summer and we were bemoaning the weather, in true British fashion, both of us distracted from the lesson by the way it was beating against the window.

Then my student pointed across the street and said, 'There he is again.' I looked and saw a man in the front garden of a little bungalow over the road. He was wearing a jacket with no hood and had a bag in his hand.

'What's he doing?' I asked.

'Gardening,' my student said in a sardonic voice. 'If it's weather like this, he comes out and does gardening, then if it's sunny, he's never there.'

We watched the man for a minute longer. He had the bag ready to put prunings into and was clipping at the roses near the gate. A couple of times he wiped his hand across his brow then carried on. If we weren't peering at him through heavy rain, it would have looked like a normal activity.

Losing interest, my student turned away, finishing with, 'No one else is daft enough to be out in this weather.'

That's when it struck me. The possible reason for the man's strange behaviour was that, in this downpour, he was guaranteed privacy to do his gardening. His little garden fronted onto the pavement at a busy section near the cross roads. If he had been there in sunshine, lots of people might have passed and he would have had an audience.

Does avoiding an audience when you're pruning roses seem like a reasonable excuse for getting soaked to the skin? It did for me; I could see the attraction of not having to worry in case someone went past, but I also admitted it wasn't as likely for other people to be avoiding company in the same way I might.

I took another look at him and noticed, despite the rain and the occasional shake of the head, he seemed quite content. He moved about the garden and did what he had to without hurrying. He was at peace, in the pouring rain. Just him and the weather, enjoying the day.

That time I probably did get it right, as my student lived in a busy and not always peaceful area. If you were a quiet person who didn't want any trouble, I can well see why you might garden in the rain. So, my aspie thinking gave me a possible right answer that time, but perhaps only because I was applying it to someone with the same motivations as myself.

In normal situations, it's often safe to assume that aspie thinking does not help when it comes to understanding non-aspie folk. They seem to operate under different rules, unspoken motivations drive them and they expect everyone to share their world view.

It becomes second nature to think something and keep it to yourself, having experienced too often the disbelief and laughter when you put forward an opinion on what something means, which is totally off the wall for other people. Very occasionally, if you're lucky, they take what you say as a joke and laugh with you instead of at you.

So, even though I often misunderstand things, I find myself hesitating and trying to re-think, in case I have it wrong again. It causes an annoying type of hesitation which aggravates other people. They ask you a question or want you do something and you dither, re-processing what was just said or done to see if you have it right.

If you feel unsure enough, you might risk asking them to repeat themselves, which often makes things worse as they take you to be a fool who can understand nothing and should be left to their own devices. Or, if you're completely sure you got it right (but actually have it wrong), you may cause even more trouble by reacting in the wrong way or saying something inappropriate.

It's a confusing mess at times, never improved by seeing the world in a different way so that even if you see it the right way today, you'll still doubt yourself tomorrow. But it does make life much more interesting, you know. It's easy to see a madman in the rain, rusting his shears, but better to see a private man with a solution to a problem no one else understands.

It doesn't really matter whether or not I have the wrong end of the stick or if there is a fellow aspie holding the other end and fighting me for it. I'll carry on seeing things as they appear to be, to me, only realising they are not what they seem later, when I've made the day a little stranger, or more odd, or funnier or complicated.

It's much less boring to believe that happy looking gents are about to surprise strangers than to see the reality of an unimpressed woman watching her dad jive along the pavement. She may not have appreciated his antics, but I did. So, gent in the pink coat, I salute you for not caring whether the other man saw you and dancing anyway.

We should all do our own thing, readers, whether or not we have it wrong. In the end, we can only be ourselves and let other people worry about it if they will.


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