Meeting of Minds


In this month’s issue of Catskill/Cairo magazine is an article about Common Ground, an organization that specializes in mediation. As an example of how it works, they present a California case between two neighbors of different cultures and languages. Neither spoke much English. The woman, a Hmong from Southeast Asia, owned a flock of chickens. The man, from Mexico, was accused of stealing one of the flock.

 The woman became frantic and demanded that he return the chicken or pay her $3000. The man didn’t have $3000, nor could he return the chicken because it had been served at a family barbecue.

The mediator didn’t speak much of either language, but managed to elicit the fact that the woman had recently lost a son. The man asked, “Did the chicken belong to your son?”

The woman, whose religion espoused reincarnation, claimed the chicken was her son. The man, at last understood what the situation meant to her, apologized most profoundly, and promised to take the place of that son. She, in turn, was able to grasp his lack of awareness and to accept the apology. We’ll assume he still had to make some sort of reparation for the theft.

Two cultures, two languages. Even with those barriers, the mediator succeeded in bringing about a mutual understanding and a peaceful solution.

As I read that on what would have been Ryo Kiyan’s 52nd birthday, I remembered his own idea that the issue between him and Miss M (see earlier posts), which ultimately led to his suicide, could have been settled with a simple mediation session. Those were his words, “a simple mediation session.”

Later, when I mentioned this concept to others, some were horrified at the thought of forcing poor, frightened Miss M into the same room with her nemesis.

Who said anything about forcing? It never occurred to me that anyone would think that. Needless to say (or perhaps not so needless), such a session is entirely voluntary. Mediation cannot take place if either party is coerced. Presumably both sides would agree that talking things out through a skilled mediator could help them settle their dispute to mutual satisfaction.

This was something Ryo suggested privately, not to the powers in the Sullivan County government who prosecuted him. Being lawyers and bureaucrats, they did it the bureaucratic way, which meant holding a formal hearing at which no witnesses were called for his side and he was not permitted to speak for himself, only to answer questions. Even Michael Sussman, the attorney he hired to defend him, did nothing to bring up the Asperger issue which, in the long run, was the crux of the problem. Aspie minds are organized differently from those of non-Aspies. They simply cannot see things the same way, and vice versa. And because they’ve been Aspies all their lives, they often don’t realize how different their worldview is from that of others. The same is true of those others. They can’t grasp how an Aspie sees things, or the size of the gulf between the two minds.

Ryo’s cousin, Sharleen, understood. Her actual words were, “His reality was different from the norm, but that was what made him unique.” She knew him well enough to appreciate those differences, rather than feel threatened by them, unlike Miss M and Sullivan County. A mediation session would have explained to Miss M that Ryo meant her no harm, that he only wanted answers. He didn’t think of himself as a danger. He thought they were friends, and knew his intentions were benign. It never entered his Aspie mind that she might have a different take on things.

Mediation would have made clear to him that she did have a different take, that his persistence frightened her to the point of carrying a knife and pepper spray for protection. It would have explained that the friendship he valued so highly was only a casual office acquaintance and to her, his constant insistence on dialog seemed more like stalking than talking. He learned the truth only at the hearing when it was too late to change anything.

In my last post I promised to talk about a piece I came across by an Aspie in which he describes what it’s like to have Asperger’s. My plans for that went awry when I read the article on mediation. It seemed so apt, I just had to get it in. Next time I will discuss the Aspie story.


7 thoughts on “Meeting of Minds

  1. No, your analogy isn’t apt —

    The California Mediation case: The Hmong woman owned the chickens, the chickens were HER property and nobody else had the right to steal/eat them.

    The Mexican man? Stole a chicken, fed it to his family and flat-out refused to 1) replace the chicken he stole, 2) reimburse the woman for the chicken he stole, 3) acknowledge that he stole a chicken, 4) apologise for stealing the chicken and 5) promise to never, ever steal a chicken again.

    Your son? Continued to pursue Miss M at work when she wanted nothing to do with him. Miss M was entitled to a harassment-free workplace.

    Your son? Continued to harass Miss M at work after she complained to management and management “ordered him [Ryo] to back off”.

    Your son? Refused to back off. Refused to follow a clear, simple, specific request. The fact that he did not know Miss M was scared? Irrelevant. He was given a DIRECT ORDER that he REFUSED to follow.

    Why on earth would Miss M enter “mediation” with your son? He wasn’t respecting her request to go away. He wasn’t respecting a direct order to go away.

    Your son’s autism was not relevant — Ryo had a direct order to stay away from Miss M and flat-out refused to follow it. Why he refused to do so is irrelevant. He was told in clear, specific terms exactly what was expected of him — there was NO AMBIGUITY. Aspies like clear, specific instructions. No possible way to misunderstand what he was supposed to do (stop contacting Miss M)…and flat-out refused to do so!

    (You might want to read security consultant Gavin de Becker’s “The Gift of Fear” — it is indeed scary when a person fails go away after they have been told in no uncertain terms to GO AWAY).

    You loved your son, you’re totally blinded by your love for him that you simply cannot see Miss M’s side of it!!!

    • “You loved your son, you’re totally blinded by your love for him that you simply cannot see Miss M’s side of it!!!”

      All the symptoms of autism are behaviors, but behaviors can be taught too.

      Ain’t no shortage of parents teaching their children “don’t care what other people think!!!!!!” in order to be “unique.”

      Ryo didn’t even bother to get an official diagnosis of Asperger’s until after the situation became a court case.

      Was he ever autistic, or was he just *taught* to not even try to guess how his words and actions appeared to his co-workers who were not the same person as him…?

      • I and many others can understand what Miss M. was feeling. The point of my blog is that no one in the Sullivan County government understood what Ryo was thinking and feeling because it was not what they would have expected. I’ve tried to explain how different an Aspie’s outlook is from that of a neurotypical. Apparently that doesn’t get across to many people. In the first place, he never understood that Miss M. was afraid of him because he thought they had a beautiful and compatible friendship. Obviously he projected a lot more into that friendship than was actually there.
        No, Ryo was not “taught” to be autistic. All his life he had problems fitting in but attributed them to shyness. It was only when those problems mounted that he researched and discovered Asperger’s, and then sought a formal diagnosis. None of this was calculated or “put on.” It’s hard for a person to look analytically at himself because he’s always been himself and has nothing else to compare it with. The same might be said for neurotypicals, but being in the majority, they get to call the shots. I’ve done several posts on the hatred and prejudice, even fear, that Aspies have to bear simply because they are different.

    • “The Mexican man? Stole a chicken, fed it to his family and flat-out refused to 1) replace the chicken he stole, 2) reimburse the woman for the chicken he stole, 3) acknowledge that he stole a chicken, 4) apologise for stealing the chicken and 5) promise to never, ever steal a chicken again.”

      1), 2), 3), and 4) are all things this Mexican man did differently from how the mainstream does things. Some people would say that by disliking what he did so differently, this Hmong woman was complaining about him for being different.

      Of course, any time anyone does something bad to another person, it’s different from good behavior so if that other person complains the first person can say “I’m being picked on for being different!”

      • The anecdote about the chicken was taken from an article on Common Ground and may or may not have been a true story. The authors did not intend it as a report on the man’s moral character, but merely as an example of how the mediation process works.

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