How to survive being social

I've been trying to find a good way to explain how we can 'learn' to be more social. Notice I don't say sociable. Being sociable assumes a predisposition to not only live with and get along with people but also a need for their company and a willingness to want them near. I'm not going totally crazy here, so I'm sticking with social.

Being social means not poking people in the eye when they say damn fool things to you. It means smiling and trying not to look like your gall bladder is puckering just looking at them. It is staying in the same room as your brother's obnoxious wife and swattable children. It is enduring other people while trying to make it look like you don't mind. Or hate them all.

The assumption that we all need to be social seems ingrained in humanity's collective consciousness. I guess it's a throwback to working as a team (sorry! I used the T word!) or at least having expendable tribe members to throw to the oncoming tiger.

We need to get along to survive; we need to be able to work with one another to make humanity a successful, thriving species on the face of a harsh planet. We need each other so there will be more of us later.

I know I won't be the only one who has noticed we succeeded. The planet is full of us and we managed to keep the human race going long enough to see off that nasty old tiger, once and for all. But still we go on and on and on, expecting other human beings to become part of the (give me a second, it hurts, I'll be fine, hang on) team.

Ignoring the need for actual survival, let's see why it might be good to be social - and I mean the non-aspie, everyday concept of social where you speak to people face to face, in the real world, with no phone or computer between you. Yes, the awful kind of social.

It's hard to get along in the world without learning the rules for social conduct. We don't need to be brilliant at them, just good enough to pass muster. As adults we can choose whether we put up with our brother and his annoying brood but family relations may become very strained if we make the decision not to see the brother again. This makes other people twitchy; they want to bring us all together, they want to reform the whole and make us see how much we need one another.

I guess it's kind of like one massive liver trying to heal itself - it seems the whole body needs the separate parts to work together, no matter how different they are. For the sake of family harmony, we bear his wife droning on about her new clothes, we put up with his grinning, overbearing, smug little brats stomping about all over the special edition Dr Who magazines. (Well, no, I joke of course. We either grab the offending children and clasp the magazines to our breast or we take unseen revenge later).

The point is, we put up and more or less shut up in the interests of an overall easier life. We try to do what other people do so that we won't bring on lots of extra difficulties later. And if it all becomes too much, we hide for a while and gather the strength to face the hordes again.

Being social is hard work but the only way to cope with it is by making sure you include other people in your life, even if it is in a small way. I've forced myself to go for milk before now when I would rather scream and dig a hole to hide in simply because I knew if I left it another day I might not leave the house for a month.

I don't mean we all have to do things we don't want to - this is the kind of tripe trotted out by bilious people who think being an aspie or not coping is something you can force out, like a splinter. No, I mean treat it like a vaccination: you need to be exposed to a little of the disease to survive the full plague. A little bit of humanity at a time makes it easier to cope when you really, truly need to see people.

In the case of learning to be social, regular, small amounts of contact keep you topped up for bigger bouts and also help you to recover afterwards. Being social does not mean liking it but in the end it's one of the few times I will tell you to face your fears and push a little harder. Unfortunately we do sometimes need other people and sometimes they need us.

Still, take heart readers. I don't expect you to be a team player, or take one for the team, or glorify in teamwork. I don't hold with that. Only go so far as putting up with the team and making sure you're out of the way when they need someone to throw at the tiger. Keep your wits about you and you can survive being social. Honest.


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