"It seems that for success in science or art, a dash of autism is essential." ~ Dr. Hans Asperger

"The Way of a Warrior is to establish harmony." ~ Morihei Ueshiba O'Sensei, Founder of Aikido

Friday, April 13, 2012

Don't Make Enemies

I was driving across the USA on a family vacation while I was reading John Elder Robison’s book Be Different that I came across this pearl of wisdom.

Learn to coexist peacefully. Even if you can’t make friends, don’t make enemies.  
Don’t tease, torment, or provoke other people. Don’t be a bully yourself.
Try to understand the other person, and by doing so, make a peaceful connection.

He was writing about his own experience with bullies.  It reminded me of my father’s advice about “picking your battles” but it also struck me how similar this is to Aikido’s philosophy of non-aggression.  Suddenly I had an epiphany and the phrase “don’t make enemies” inspired a new outlook on peace and conflict resolution.
In the Art of Peace we never attack. An attack is proof that one is out of control. Never run away from any kind of challenge, but do not try to suppress or control an opponent unnaturally. Let attackers come any way they like and then blend with them. Never chase after opponents. Redirect each attack and get firmly behind it. 
-- Morihei Ueshiba, The Art of Peace
 This is apparent in the physical technique of Aikido.  As an attacker reaches to grab or strike we blend with the motion so that they over extend and put themselves off balance.  When they are in a weak position, it is simple to apply a technique to redirect, control, disarm, or immobilize them. 

 The blending (“aiki”) is important to reduce the attacker’s power and not give him anything to resist.  In contrast, hitting back creates tension and feeds into the cycle of violence.

Conflict can take many forms (weapons, fists, words, etc.).  I believe it’s important for those who practice the way of advocacy to employ techniques to bring harmony.  The Autistic community is such a small minority and we are greatly outnumbered.  We cannot achieve our goals with mere force.  

Our success will depend on how many people we can convince to support us and the justice of our cause.  There is a great many people who are generally unaware of autism.  I view them as an untapped resource.  It will take a gentle, respectful approach to cultivate and not spoil them.

I’m a little disappointed by the tone I’ve seen in many writings and dialogue by my peers.  I have seen a lot of inflammatory rhetoric and I fear that is counterproductive to the message.  Language that may insult the audience will not bring them closer to your point. Rather, it will turn them away, incite stronger opposition, alienate potential allies, and possibly lose current ones.

I can't claim to know others' motivations but I suspect the fallacy of the false dilemma.  Rigid, black-or-white thinking is common among autists but sometimes it doesn't fit the situation.  It’s a naïve way of thinking to believe everyone is either with you or against you.  Ignoring the possibility of neutrality makes you overestimate the real number of enemies and puts excessive stress on yourself.

I urge my fellow advocates to take a step back and think about these principles.  In short, “don’t make enemies” means we must increase the number of our allies while keeping constant (or reducing) the number of our enemies. 
The Way of a Warrior, the Art of Politics, is to stop trouble before it starts. It consists in defeating your adversaries spiritually by making them realize the folly of their actions. The Way of a Warrior is to establish harmony.

1 comment:

  1. Derailing by means of argument from tone is really never helpful in social justice circles. Self-advocates are vehement and, yes, often angry, because the society around us continues to have discussions and make decisions about our lives and wellbeing that we know, from lived experience, can cause immense damage. Also, it's a bit late to warn us not to make enemies, where merely being different at all guarantees that one will be hated. Maybe it will be hatred "for our own good," or hatred disguised in sanitized, medicalized language, but, as far as what happens to us and how willing people are to do it, it's hatred all the same. And really, when it comes to the things that happen to Autistic people - such as institutional abuse and neglect and murder by our caregivers, for instance - there is no principled way to be neutral.