Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Gone til next week...

I will be almost totally offline between tomorrow morning and Sunday evening. What email access (if any) will be limited.

I have to go to a conference - one of my least favorite parts of my job. To make it worse, the day before the conference involves a strategy meeting.

Great. Sitting at a table of people with smooth social skills trying to get a word in edgewise.

It's not that I can't do it. I can. And I'll probably come across as rude when I interact in a group situation (I usually do). But fortunately, I'm an invited speaker and I'm entitled to speak up - I just can't seem to do it as smoothly and ingratiatingly as the NTs dominating the group.

It used to be worse. When I was a grad student, I was attended regular department meetings. I seldom said a word. After the meetings, I'd usually reflect on some issues that were discussed and finally was asked by someone why I didn't bring those reflections into the meetings themselves - while the meeting was still going on.

What I told the colleague was that I was totally clueless as to the signals others were following to know how and when to break smoothly into a free flowing, unstructured meeting. The few times I'd tried it, it was obvious that my own attempts to break in came across as rude somehow.

To my great surprise, I was accommodated without asking. Meetings were then conducted through turn-taking, with people signalling they wanted to speak. It made life much easier as far as the meetings.

In a gathering like this, it's easier. Fellow participants allegedly want my input - so I'm expected to speak and they have to act like they want me to. (wink)

And I don't worry about being being perceived as rude, as long as I don't set out to be that way. As an activist, it's not that bad if people are a little concerned about how badly you'll depart from an atmosphere of civility, solidarity and cohesion.

It will be exhausting, but necessary work. I just wish it didn't feel like the social equivalent of trying to tiptoe my way through a minefield. (to understand that metaphor fully, you should know that my balance is bad enough that I would flunk the standard field sobriety test. Tiptoeing through a minefield is a very very troubling metaphor to me) --Stephen


sanda said...

Empathy on several levels. I hated meetings when I could go, usually. Sometimes it helps, now that I have cognitive difficulties, to tell someone what it is that I am having difficulty with, communicating with them.

I once was in a small art group, of nine. We met regularly for ten years. When I became severely ill, folks "ran". But, I already had allergy/asthma and one person was always angry with me. I once asked why, at a meeting. I got an apology, person saying she was always angry and I became the target. There's all kinds of individuals in a group.

Sometimes people will verbalize hostility about disability. Years ago, before smoking was banned in meetings, I had been in a large meeting, large group and people thought I was a "pain in the you-know-what" for requesting people not smoke, so I could stay. Smokers refused, so I stopped going. A magazine article in a women's art magazine, also pre-ban on smoking, had a comment from a conference panel speaker, "I'm glad we didn't have to make any special accomodation for people who are bothered by smoking." I once had the same negative reaction at a disability center where I had to take a written exam:counselor said, "I can't tell people not to smoke.".
I said if no smoke free space was found, I had to leave. Problem solved.

I've got this motto, learned at a doctor's office when I complained about spray in the bathroom, "you're the only one". I'm never the only one. No one is ever the only one. For anything.

sanda said...

PS Yesterday, after a (st)roll, spouse pushing my wheelchair, we came upon a longtime pal of his, near home. Pal wanted to chat, so they sat on a bench; we made a small group to chat. When the old pal, who knows me, accused me of being rude for interrupting, I said, "am overdone,sorry, cognitive symptoms, time to go". (It had happened before on phone, but most folks don't remember other folks' stuff.)And went home. While it was true that I cut him off when cognitive glitched, it makes me smile since men so often interrupt women without giving it much thought.