Tuesday, August 9, 2011

I'm Honest and Your Baby is Ugly

Lately on Facebook I have seen babies, babies, babies, and more babies. As far as I'm concerned-- and at the risk of, perhaps, alienating half my audience-- newborn babies generally look the same and look ugly (And no, I was not exempt from this rule as an infant). Inevitably, when somebody posts a million pictures of his/her newborn on Facebook, a flurry of "He's so cute," or "She's perfect!" dominates the comments sections of these pictures. I seriously wonder how many people genuinely are honest when they post these comments. Maybe a few, maybe even most, but not all. In fact, it's largely a social grace, a lie-- and presumably the new parents know that they're merely hearing a social grace rather than an honest opinion-- and perhaps a form of reciprocal altruism that is prevalent in social species.

Don't let the title of the blog entry fool you-- I'm not going to write, "Your baby is ugly" when I see pictures of babies posted on Facebook. But I'm not going to tell a boldfaced lie and say that s/he's "perfect" or "cute." If I want to be supportive, I'll say things that I really mean, such as, "I know you'll be a good mom/dad." 

Quite frankly, routine social graces feel phony to me, and I hate small talk. Dr. Jack Kevorkian once commented that he disliked small talk and also said that he hated how people routinely lie to each other in ways that I just described; these complaints are common among people with Asperger's syndrome which is one of many reasons why I think Dr. Kevorkian had AS. Call me cold, but when I go to work and bump into someone I barely know, I don't care how they are. No, that doesn't  mean I wish them ill, but I am really ambivalent to how they're doing, and I think if people were more honest with themselves they would agree. If somebody I barely know asks me how I am, I say, "Hey, what's going on?" That more casual greeting feels less phony to me than, "How are you?" At a job interview, I do say, "How are you?" because, unfortunately, successful job interviews are laced with phoniness. 

Is it cold for me to say that I am ambivalent that a casual acquaintance's mother is in the hospital? Here, I do conform to this social grace by saying, "Is she going to be okay?" because it is a profound situation, but I forget about it two seconds later. Does that sound insensitive?

It occurred to me recently that if I managed to do something to change the world for the better, ultimately my happiness about this would be in sheer pride more than, "I'm glad that other people are doing better," or "I'm glad that they are suffering less." Although I would be glad about these things, ultimately it would be a real boost for my ego. What about that? Does that sound selfish? I'm reminded of another Dr. Kevorkian moment. In 1998, when Dr. Kevorkian was on 60 Minutes after he injected one of his patients directly, he told the host, Mike Wallace, "I'm fighting for me, Mike. Me. This is a right I want. I'm 71... I'll be 71. You don't know what'll happen when you get older. I may end up terribly suffering. I want some colleague to be free to come help me [to die] when I say the time has come. That's why I'm fighting, for me. Now that sounds selfish. And if it helps everybody else, so be it." Mike Wallace, and many other interviewers, also said that when they talked to Kevorkian privately, they found him to be a very compassionate man. So why would he say something brazen like that if he didn't care about his patients? Obviously I can't get inside his mind, but I think in those four sentences he summed up what I'm saying here-- You may care about other people, but in the end you're the person you care about the most. He cared about his patients, but ultimately he wanted the right to die for himself. I think he was just more honest about his motives than most people in his situation would be.

Reciprocal altruism is, I think, why we pretend to be incredibly upset that the mother of somebody who we barely know is in the hospital or that we think somebody's ugly baby is cute. Yes, caring about the person, even to a minimal extent (depending on your relationship with them) may be part of it, but in the end it's about you. If you pretend to be more upset than you are about an acquaintance's mother being in the hospital, that person will like you better and be more likely to help you if you need it. Same thing if you pretend to think somebody's ugly baby is cute. 

And how many of you who cry at funerals really do it because you feel badly for the person rather than that you simply miss them? I think if people were more honest they would admit that they cry at funerals for themselves, not for the deceased. 

I think people with Asperger's are just more honest about their motives and how they really feel and are more aware of it because these social graces were not something that they acquired unconsciously but something that had to be taught to them.

There is no such thing as true altruism. 


  1. Thank you for your thoughts about Kevorkian.

    You do have a lot of insight into his motives. They were plain to see.

    I also like: "What's going on?" even though it can feel intrusive when a person in authority might use it.

  2. I know exactly where you're coming from - I also hate the phoniness of social graces. Somebody shows me a photo of their baby and I say "It's a baby". What are they expecting me to say? "She's lovely"? She looks pretty much like every other baby I ever saw.

    I get confused because I usually take what people say at face value. Some people get insulted because I say what I think instead of what I think they want to hear. I don't empathize with people I don't know so I get called "cold".

    Yes, I agree it's all about honesty - and that doesn't sit comfortably alongside social conventions. Thank you for your honest article.

  3. I understand what you mean about how sometimes people do tell small white lies or fake interest in something. However, to me it is also about recognizing that while to you, these gestures are fake and mean nothing and bother you, they do mean something to others. I am not saying that you should always bend, but that there is a need to recognize that different people have different preferred communications styles. I may be wrong about this (please correct me if I am) but part of AS is that it is difficult to recognize these different communication styles. I also hate small talk. For instance, when I go to a co-worker in the morning with a question, I would just dive right in. However after some time I noticed he was annoyed by that, he helped by pointing it out as well. I learned that if I go in and say 'How are you?' that I will get a better response. Overall, I am able to then get the information I need and I can move on. I know it sucks, but to me, it is all about learning how to get what you need out of people. You are doing exactly that when you are asking 'How are you?' when on an interview. It sucks, but because we are all different people, sometimes we have to bend a little.

  4. You’ve got the Versatile Blogger Award http://www.aspergerschild.org/1/post/2011/08/ive-got-the-versatile-blog-award.html

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  6. I don't see any source code or any indication of what to do.

  7. When I was younger I got into trouble with a girlfriend about the baby thing. My brother had bought a puppy, and whenever I walked it all these people would stop or point and say how cute it was. Anyway I was in a shop with girlfriend and she saw someone she knew who had a baby with her and after she'd done with her fussing, as we walked off I said 'It's like having a dog isn't it?', 'What's like having a dog' she angrily replied, 'A baby, the way people fuss over it' I said. 'It's nothing like having a dog' she raged.
    On reflection I think she's right, puppies and kittens are much cuter.
    Joking obviously, but I'm sure 'NT' people do see that cuteness in human babies, and so could 'AS' people if we wanted to. Not so much actual appearance, but a new life.
    It's about changing the mind, and I think it's possible.

  8. I don't think being indifferent to babies is limited to people with AS. I think we're just more honest about it.

  9. Its a honest point of view

  10. I see this article is older, but I just wanted to comment. I do not have AS and I still completely agree with this article in its entirety. I struggle with giving compliments if I don't mean it. I never ever comment on anybodies baby simply because I don't think babies are cute. And further more, I get irritated by the fact that they expect a compliment.

    People are in denial. There is no such thing as being selfless. Everything a person does is some how self serving. The problem is, 99% of the population likes to see themselves as a much better person than they are. They want to see themselves as being more than human. Human beings are self-serving.

    Honesty is very important to me. Thank you for this article!

  11. I think there is a balance between selfish and selfless. If I see a baby picture, and the baby is cute (in my own opinion), I will not hesitate to say so. However, I do not feel compelled to comment on every single baby picture I see. That would be asinine.

  12. Your comment about babies made me grin. Until I had a child myself, I found other people's baby pictures pretty boring, if I'm honest. The only ones I felt attached to were pictures of babies and children I knew and felt a bond with. (I'm allegedly Neurotypical.)(Is there such a thing really?) I like your honesty in saying 'I think you'll be a good parent'. :)

    Funerals though - I don't think the tears and sadness are necessarily supposed to be empathetic for the person who has died and their feelings. I always think the funeral service is an important act of catharsis and release of grief for those taking part. The individual feels their own personal pain at losing the dead person from their life, and also sadness in sympathy for the people such as family who will be missing the dead person and will be suffering.

    At a friend's funeral a couple of months ago, I cried because I will miss her and because the world is now somehow lessened by not having her in it, because she was a force for goodness. I also felt sad that my friend had experienced suffering when she was sick.

    I hope you don't think I am being rude in explaining this. I just thought I'd clarify how it has worked in my experience.

    Best wishes - and keep on being honest!

  13. fyi: ambivalent ≠ indifferent
    i've learned to keep the pedantry on the DL w/ the NTs, but i reckon you won't be too miffed. "not judging, just /informing/. (aspie bznz as uzh).