Monday, October 20, 2014

31 for 21: Worth A Listen

Last year, Christer & I had the chance to see Temple Grandin speak.  The University's auditorium was packed, and it was a diverse audience.  The usual crowd of college faculty & students were there (including more than a few students in the line to prove their attendance).  Then there were people on the autism spectrum there, and their families.  There were special education teachers and other professionals that work in the disability community.  And then there was a whole separate set of folks who knew of Grandin from her work -- folks interested in animal behavior and agriculture.  And then there were the animal activist types, curious about this woman who's work has led to more humane treatment of animals on their way to be slaughtered.

Temple Grandin owned that audience.  Her presentation was unlike any other lecture I have ever attended.  It was obvious that she is not a linear thinker -- I had to work hard to keep up with her tangents and loops.  She was straightforward when describing the importance of her work, abrupt in answering questions, and blunt when scolding the tech booth for messing up her slides.  And the audience was with her through it all -- sometimes in quiet concentration, sometimes in slightly uneasy laughter, sometimes with enthusiastic applause.

The audience was excited to see Temple Grandin, and was willing to enter her space in order to hear what she had to say.  We were rewarded by seeing the topics of her talk through her eyes for a few moments.  We were rewarded by seeing both the scientific accomplishments she has made, and the ways that her autism gave her a view of the world that made those accomplishments possible.

This is what I want for Max.  Not from a packed auditorium, necessarily, but from his friends, and coworkers, and from the teller at the bank.  I want people to be so genuinely interested in him that they are willing to take a step into his space in order to really hear what he has to say.

And, if I'm honest, this is also what I hope for myself.  Look, it's tough really listening to people.  I have hard enough time staying present with the folks closest to me in my life.  When someone comes along who is challenging (a bully in the workplace, an over-dramatic friend, a five year old child living in my house...) it is easier to shut down, to walk away, to disengage.  It's tempting, when someone doesn't act the way I would like them to, to ascribe my own reasons for their behavior instead of paying attention long enough to understand where they are coming from.

I'm going to mess this up along the way.  I'm going to miss out on things that Max is trying to tell me.  Heck, I've missed out on few key messages from both of my children already.  But months after Temple Grandin's speech, the whole experience -- hearing her, watching the audience, and being a part of the audience -- it all sticks with me.  There are models out there for how to connect across differences.  There will be places where Max is appreciated and understood.  And, if I'm lucky, I'll get to step inside his space, too.

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