Thursday, July 02, 2009

Theory of Mind

I spend a good majority of my time at work trying to teach children with autism that we all have different perceptions of the world . The terminology for this is Theory of Mind. Theory of Mind is the ability to understand that the way that you perceive things is different from the perception of others. That we all have our own likes and dislikes. That we all react to things in different ways. Being able to see things from another's point of view is what allows us to be successful in our social lives.

Somehow this theory seems to be much simpler to explain than it is to practice. Many grown adults seem to lack this ability. In my work, when this ability is lacking we call it mind blindness. I often equate all of this with empathy. It's one thing to feel sorry for someone, that's sympathy. It's another thing entirely to actually attempt to identify with someone else and to put yourself in their shoes and to identify with what they are going through, be it simple or complex.

As a society, it is customary to say "How are you?" when we greet people. Sadly, because it is ritualistic, it seems to have very little validity. How often in my own life have I given the expected, "Fine," as an answer when things were anything but fine. To answer anything but fine almost feels like a social faux pas. This means that we might expect something from the other person or that the other person might feel burdened by our statement. I long to live in a world where we can all be honest about our feelings. I probably tip my hand more than most when it comes to revealing exactly how I am feeling. What sense is it hide how we feel from those that we are close to?

The flip side of that coin is that it isn't always nice to reveal how we are feeling sometimes. It can be hurtful to reveal mistrust or anger. This is where empathy needs to come in to play. Before we react with the full force of our emotions, we need to take a step back and think about how that person might receive it. Did we understand the situation? Do we know the background of what happened? Do we understand how this person accepts strong emotional statements?

I find it harder and harder each year to balance my desire for honesty with my impulse to be empathetic. I teach empathy on a daily basis. I have to practice empathy to be able to do my job. In real life, empathy can sometimes be my own achilles heel, as it leaves me vulnerable in a world where many are not empathetic in return. I feel soft and naked in a harsh world. Many have told me to toughen up. I am tough when I need to be in situations where injustice has occurred. But somehow, the day to day stuff seems to be hardest for me. Small things hurt me. Big things devastate me. And yet, if you ask me how I am, I am likely to say, "Fine." Anything more can be a liability and usually ends up being thrown back in my face. I trust fewer and fewer people. And I think that is the saddest statement of all.


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hooray, your writings on theater and writing much missed!

網站設計 said...

hooray, your writings on theater and writing much missed!