Not long ago a friend of mine published a book about what it’s like to have Asperger’s syndrome. He mentioned it on Facebook in quite another context, and received the following e-mail: “F**k off, retard! This is not the place to plug your retard book!”
To begin with, Facebook is highly recommended to authors as a venue for talking about their books. So why the venom? Why should it bother that person if an author wants to sell his book, as most authors do? Furthermore, Asperger’s has nothing to do with mental retardation. Many Aspies are exceptionally brilliant. Albert Einstein, anyone?
True, the e-mailer might have been simply a pea-brained kid trying to be smart and proving exactly the opposite, but it comes across as boiling with hatred and paranoia. One wonders why.
Xenophobia: fear or hatred of strangers or foreigners, or of anything foreign or strange (Webster’s New World College Dictionary, fourth edition).
Many people fear anything different from what they are accustomed to because they don’t understand it. Prejudice has been described as “being down on what you’re not up on.” With that lack of understanding they feel threatened, even when there’s nothing to be afraid of. The operative word is “different.” A different race, a different religion, different language or culture. Even a different neurological makeup, such as autism.
In an early post I cited two cases of county workers who lost their jobs because they made people “uncomfortable” simply by being who they were. As we all know, it’s hard not to be who you are, and hard to understand why you should be hated and feared because of it.
One of those workers, Ryo Kiyan, whose travails I have chronicled in this blog, put his confusion into a letter:
“People are always spouting off about their ideals, but they don’t practice them . . . I keep looking for that ideal world, the one that people pretend they want. A place where everybody gets along, where they try to be nice and help each other and don’t hold grudges.
“People like to pretend they’re doing the right thing but then they go ahead with all the exceptions. They tell you it shouldn’t bother you that someone you see every day hates your guts, and doesn’t want to talk to you, and thinks bad things about you that aren’t true.
“You [meaning himself] don’t understand any of this. And nobody can understand that you don’t understand. They don’t understand that you’d want to say hello to someone who despises you, or say excuse me if you accidentally bump her. And because in their minds it’s unnatural, they think it’s got to be dangerous. If you’re dangerous, then you have to be weeded out.”
Ryo truly didn’t understand why some people feared and hated him. He only knew they did, and he remained convinced to the end that that was why they fired him. They just didn’t want him around. His happiest times were in high school and college where there were other geeks, nerds, Aspies, who appreciated his humor and sense of fun, instead of feeling “uncomfortable.”
The world will always have narrow-minded people who can’t accept differences. Inch by inch many of those phobias have seen the passing of legislation aimed at blunting the often tragic consequences of such fears, if not the fears themselves. It takes a long time, people being what they are. Perhaps someday, many millennia in the future, Ryo’s ideal world will be achieved.