You’re My Kind

In disk six of the audiobook to The Big Short, an eccentric value fund manager finds out that he and his son have both been diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome and he is disappointed to hear that many of his own personality quirks, ranging from a difficulty in social interactions, a tendency towards unintentionally offending others, and certain obsessive interests in what others find tedious and obscure, including large amounts of reading of what others find extremely boring, are indicators and symptoms of a syndrome shared by many people. His disappointment springs from being like other people, something he did not want to be. I know myself, that among my other psychological quirks [1], my brother routinely brought attention to my own eccentric tendencies such as physical clumsiness and unusual use of language, along with my own lifelong struggles with communication, as being clear evidence that I too was an Asperger’s sufferer myself. What is particularly telling, though, is that at least officially, the syndrome no longer exists, having been lumped into a rather nonspecific label of autism spectrum disorder, albeit at the higher end of the spectrum.

In contrast to this example of someone having no interest in being strikingly similar to others, there is the experience of the general body of humanity. The late singer Michael Hutchence sang in the band’s biggest American hit, “Need You Tonight,” that a particular woman was his kind. This may not have been a good thing, given the sordid death suffered by the singer, which was involved in a particularly difficult relationship he was in with the mother of his daughter Tiger, who happened to be married to pop humanitarian Bob Geldof [2]. The dramatic situation and Hutchence’s death led to an outpouring of songs in honor of the singer, from “Shame” by the Smashing Pumpkins to Duran Duran’s “Michael,” to Berlin’s “Sacred And Profane” to U2’s “Stuck In A Moment That You Can’t Get Out Of [3].” What did it mean for Michael Hutchence to say that someone was his kind? What does it mean for anyone to say it? Was Hutchence thinking only of his frustrated sexual longings, or did he have a more intuitive sense of the people he was attracted to? His own songs indicate his awareness of being filled with deep and noble feelings, but also a feeling of brokenness and wickedness–no one who can honestly sing lyrics about suicide blondes or that every single one of us has the devil inside, which is true, if not exactly very comforting, in that we all have areas of our lives that draw us towards evil if we dwell on them and act upon them, can be without a deep awareness of darkness.

How do we know what kind we are? This is a question of great seriousness, and surprising difficulty, since it deals at its heart with questions of identity. In fact, depending on the context we live in, we are many kinds, belonging to many categories where we share links with other people. We may choose to draw upon these links to develop connections, or we may choose not to, but in truth we are all many kinds of person, and the more complicated we and our lives are, the more potential links we have with other people based on those similarities. For example, in my work realm I go out to eat occasionally with a consistent group of people who are all “quants,” that is, people who work in some respect with data, whether as reporting analysts, database administrators, our company’s comptroller, and related positions. In other contexts I am comic relief, with my wit and gentle humor providing a lightening of the load of my dinner companions, while in still other contexts I am known by my roles in singing or playing music or in coaching or in speaking or writing or various volunteer efforts. In still other ways I share bonds with fellow children of disastrously divorced parents, or survivors of child sexual abuse. I share bonds with those of similar political or religious or philosophical worldviews, all of whom I can consider people of my kind, if I wanted to. If I were so inclined, I could do the same with people of the same age, personality type, national or ethnic origin, language use, and so on and so forth. I am many kinds, and so are others, and so is everyone else. The question is which identity is one drawing on for support and encouragement and belonging with others at a particular time, and why.

The last three and a half years or so that I have spent in the larger Portland area, having lived in four of its constituent counties in the search for affordable housing and having dealt with the frequent threat of induced homelessness, which is at least one of the many repeating aspects of my life here, have proven to be very thought-provoking when looking at the question of kind. Having seen an alarmingly large number of situations similar to my own, and found myself thrown together with the same small group of people over and over again, one gets the feeling that there are root similarities that go far deeper than mere coincidence, even if it is not clear if there is any design on the part of many of the people involved themselves. When one is interacting with people who have faced childhood sexual abuse from family members, one is often torn between the resolute desire not to ruin the moment by discussing it outright, but also by the knowledge that there is a very strong bond that is shared by having endured similar experiences, and the fact that those experiences have often been coped with in similar ways. Like attracts like, even in the most painful and difficult areas of our existence, the ones that we would seldom wish to draw attention to directly or openly, but which play an important role in influencing our responses to life and the people we are around.

This awareness comes entirely accidentally sometimes. I remember when I first moved to the Portland area that I was struck by someone having the same last name as a couple of people I had known from nearly a decade before when I lived for several months on the outskirts of Cincinnati attending a small Bible college. The young woman with the name I had noticed informed me that the people I had known were her uncles, and then progressed to show me some of the injuries she had recently received while riding a four-wheeler. From such odd encounters we make friends, and find ourselves involved in situations far larger than ourselves alone, with roots going back for generations, and striking similarities, whether we are looking at flight or fight responses, difficulties in communication, or other matters. Nor was this an isolated experience, as the same thing kept on happening to me over and over again. I would find myself around someone, and then I would find out that they too had parents, or perhaps themselves, involved in a spectacular divorce, and there would be questions about how best to deal with broken families and broken backgrounds when one had the hope for something far better in one’s future. Our similar interests, background, and longings, and even difficulties led fairly rapidly to complicated situations and interactions involving a great many people.

Which of those similarities is the most important? In many college campuses over the past few years there have been events called “Take Back The Night,” and a large number of books and memoirs [4] written dealing with the assaults done to young women. Let us say, for the sake of discussion, that someone with a personal background like myself is placed in close and continual proximity with a young woman who is a survivor of rape by peers in a college environment. On one level, we would share the identity of being survivors of rape and sexual abuse, which can often be an intense level of identification, given the intense feelings that result from such matters. Yet this identity will be complicated by the different context of our experience as survivors. Most contemporary efforts at decrying rape or at seeking to rehabilitate the survivors of rape have been done by women on behalf of women, and have tended to view men as largely the enemy, while seeking to gain the support of social and cultural authorities to support their causes. I, therefore, could easily be confused as a threat by someone who had been threatened by someone in my place, an attentive male peer, and the natural response would be to make an appeal to authority for defense. In contrary fashion, because of my own experiences of abuse coming from authority figures, this would be a clear threat to me personally for someone to seek strong male authority in a misguided zeal for self-defense. Each of our native moves–her for male protection, and me for peer relationships, would be a clear threat to the other. The fact that we shared an intense similarity in background would not ultimately lead to a mutual identity of interests because of the starkly different context of what we had suffered, and because of our shared experience of PTSD, were suffering still. Even knowing this sort of thing does not make it possible to resolve such a problem because the ground on which the problem exists is so delicate and problematic, where it our shared identity that serves a large part of the danger and difficulty, in that we fancy we understand everything when we do not understand nearly enough, and where our ability to understand is far above our ability to successfully act on that knowledge.

If it is not our shared background that is the most important for us to focus on, given the difficulties that background often involves us in, what about shared coping mechanisms or interests? We might expect people who cope with life’s difficulties by drinking, for example, to become close friends at a bar. we see people with shared backgrounds and contexts joining together as activists with a passionate devotion to the same social causes. We see the friendships of workaholics in the office place, or find ourselves involved in quirky social activities with like-minded people. Many of these identifications close ourselves to others in some fashion, or may even exacerbate the difficulties we face. Friendship with drunks may be sociable, and they may be good and decent people underneath it all, but a drinking buddy is someone who shares the same problem as a problem drinker, and may not be able to stand outside of the problem that both share, namely that their drinking may be intensifying the problems with family members that is serving as part of the impetus for them to drink. Activists in a common cause fighting against evil may forget that they are not properly distinguishing between the people who took advantage of them and people who happen to share some of those characteristics. We are often very quick to generalize from our limited experiences, but such a generalization is not always wise nor is it generally humane. Even quirky shared interests that we have may lead us to be isolated in marginalized social ghettos, and leave us more vulnerable to the misunderstanding and disdain of the larger society around us, even if it is far more pleasant to spend our time with those who like us and get along with us and understand where we are coming from than otherwise.

Since even seeking to focus on our shared longing may lead us into complications because of the entanglements that result from those longings, there are truly no options we can choose that are without danger. Even so, that does not mean that we should not act, but rather that should recognize that rehabilitation is not about a world without danger, as this world does not contain such options, but rather that we are better equipped to deal with the stresses and pressures of life. Our rehabilitation is both about helping to seek for a better world and also about being better able to cope with the world that now is even while we seek and prepare for a better world. If this sounds complicated, that is because we are complicated and our situation is complicated. Our experiences can be a burden that crushes down on our shoulders, a fuel that gives us intense passion for justice, and a ticket to greater empathy for other people, even when those other people do not understand us or necessarily have empathy for us. If we are fortunate enough to see in our experiences a way to identify with and encourage other people going through the same situations, then we may eventually find that the favor is returned to us, whether we realize it or not.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/04/27/sleeping-it-away/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/05/01/book-review-haunted-by-combat/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/04/07/book-review-resilience/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/04/06/so-much-violence-ends-in-silence/

[2] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/01/16/i-dont-like-mondays/

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Hutchence

[4] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/03/26/book-review-missoula/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/03/15/book-review-it-wasnt-your-fault/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/01/10/book-review-another-valley-another-victory/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/10/12/book-review-unlikely-rebel/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/08/15/book-review-kill-the-silence/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/07/22/book-review-the-seduction-of-eva-volk/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/03/26/book-review-missoula/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Christianity, Church of God, Love & Marriage, Musings and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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