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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Permission to be Weird

I have begun to write a book, and since I love to share everything with you people, here is the current length of it. Please, tell me your thoughts... as I am truly baring my soul with this.

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I have always felt “different” from other people, even though that might sound strange to someone who doesn’t feel that way. I never felt like I fit in anywhere, even in groups whose members all seemed to like me. Always the odd man out, I was never good at sports and usually the last to be chosen for team sports in school. I never understood the point of forcing team sports on those who clearly aren’t cut out for them - perhaps in the future schools won’t do that any more. It is a dream of mine to see individuals treated individually, rather than clumping us all together and treating us as if we were identical. We’re not identical, and neither are our needs.

While I may have been good at word games, I never truly enjoyed any sort of games, so I just quit playing them sometime during my 20’s. There was no specific event which occurred after which I said “I will never again play games” or anything as dramatic as all that, I just came to a point in life where I decided “why bother, if I’m not enjoying myself”? I’ve since applied the same concept to most other things. I no longer attempt to “learn to enjoy” things just to spend time with someone. I’d much prefer that they go have fun and leave me out of it. I don’t enjoy competition.

To be honest, I’m not sure I ever really “enjoy” things much at all. I find that most of life is a series of choices: to enjoy, loathe or tolerate… and most of the time I simply tolerate the situation. When I do find myself actually enjoying something, such as a good movie, I’m pleasantly surprised. I savor the moment… and more often than not: will become so absorbed in that which I am doing that it would be difficult indeed to obtain my attention. However, when I sometimes come to the sudden realization that I am not only NOT enjoying myself, but that I am actually having a BAD time, my attitude may seem to change abruptly. I suppose it DOES change abruptly. This is often the case when I go somewhere and become overwhelmed by the sounds, bright lights, smells or closeness of other people.

It is equally true that no matter how hard I may try, I can not bring myself to maintain interest in something that bores or disinterests me. I’d rather be boiled in oil. Well… maybe not, but I would certainly rather live under a bridge as a derelict than do the “nine to five” thing like a robot. Yes, I’m peculiar. Strange. Odd. Bizarre at times. But I’m not the only one. The world is full of us, and we’re tired of being cast aside as unimportant. We deserve to be accepted as we are, just like we accept those who are “normal” and “sane.” Stop trying to convince us we should be like you… let us be who we are… and the world will be a much better place, for you as well as for us. If you don’t, if you insist on eradicating us through selective breeding by genetic testing and so forth, one day you may find the world sadly lacking in creativity or innovative new procedures and inventions.

From the beginning of time there have been individuals who “marched to the beat of a different drum” and who often seem to be in their own world. Those who are not a part of the spectrum may never understand that world, but for those of us who live within it, it’s a fragile and nebulous alternative reality. It is a retreat and an oasis. A safety zone which we can always have nearby, because it is no further away than our next thought. To zone out, unfocus our eyes and enter this apparently coma- or zombie-like state is preferable to what we are experiencing is a defense mechanism of the highest order. It harms no one, but it helps us, so it is important that people understand that “we’ll be back” when we feel no further threat.

Many of us are hypersensitive to the point of pain and must either retreat outwardly (as in leaving a room or situation) or inwardly to avoid disaster. When we can’t retreat, when we’re backed against the wall so to speak: we crumble. We melt down. We may even get violent. That is when those who do not understand need to accept that they do not and can not understand and just back off. Leave us alone. Let us chill out and recharge. We will be okay if you let us. It is usually a matter of over-stimulation of one or more senses and can be easily remedied by momentary calm (peace & quiet) and dim lighting. The further you press us the more damage you may ultimately do. Get over the idea that you can “fix” everything and realize that some matters require only time, patience and acceptance.

This inability to tolerate certain situations (or even certain people) is not conducive to working in some environments, but there are wonderfully fulfilling positions that we can hold without being triggered into a full-scale meltdown. Many of us are performers, artists, poets and other sorts of writers, inventors or creative people. Despite having difficulty with motor coordination, a number of people within the spectrum are excellent martial artists and dancers. Working with animals is also ideal, because we often identify better with creatures other than homo sapiens. Mankind has messed itself up a lot… name another creature on this planet you can say that about.

I have always loved horses. One of the true examples of evolution on this planet, the horse began as a small, unassuming creature with five toes, which somewhat resembled a dog. Over time this creature, eohippus, adapted and changed according to the environmental pressures surrounding it, to become the powerful and majestic beast we enjoy today.

I mention horses and evolution because I believe that those of us with hypersensitivities may be the precursor of a new type of homo sapiens. The next adaptation. It would be interesting to me to see if there is a subgroup of individuals whose sensitivities lie beyond the usual five senses in the realm of the paranormal… and whether those people could help piece together the next part of the puzzle of life. I read today a speculative article suggesting the opposite: that we are throwbacks to our Neanderthal roots, exhibiting traits that are easily explained by biological bygones.

Whatever be the case, surely mankind cannot continue to race headlong down the garden path expecting to one day arrive at “retirement” and some sort of Nirvana. Can they not see that racing headlong is not wise when there might be a cliff around the bend? Once caught up in a stampede it is impossible not to be swept over the edge along with the rest of the hapless sheep/buffalo/rats take your pick of illustrative creatures, but the result is the same. A serious dead-end of destructive massacre. Perhaps it is a survival instinct, that there are those of us who would rather die than join in that “group mentality.”

No, I don’t seek to join the “rat-race” and share the fate of those who are not willing or able to heed the signs. Nor am I anarchist, although I suppose that would be the closest in ally to my beliefs that exists in politics. I’m anti-society, but my antisocial tendencies all have sound reasoning behind them. They’re a reaction to the vulgar and base manner in which society chooses to conduct itself. If this is society, I have no reason to want any part of it. Society has shunned my kind, and we, in turn, happily shun them back.

As a child, I detested group activities, and still do. No one ever “socialized” me into enjoying them. I think it’s a ridiculous waste of time to force feed unwilling victims your own expectations. It is more important that people learn certain basics, and the rest should be left up to the individual. The educational system has so many gaps in it, it is not surprising that perfectly normal people barely have a clue how to live their lives. The world is dysfunctional for the most part, however few care to admit it. Without their servants, how many of the high-born of this world could cook, clean, do laundry and perform the duties required for childcare, etc.? Precious few, I’ll wager. So why should the middle and lower classes be much different? Necessity? Hardly. One can always find an excuse for that which we are deficient in.

I have ideas which I believe could revolutionize the educational system worldwide, if I ever make the time to finish getting them out of my head and online or on paper, etc. so that others can share my thoughts. I am absolutely convinced that our current educational system needs to be scrapped and restructured more appropriately and efficiently. It is not a question of if, but more a question of when… because it’s glaringly obvious that our country is falling further and further behind the rest of the world. There are good reasons for this.

May God help me as I attempt to set forth the basic premises here, along with my other lucid ramblings. And to present it coherently enough that the world can understand and utilize what it is that He has given me in concepts and clarity. There is so much that must be explained along the way, I pray to maintain focus for a moment or two on this path.

Education begins in the womb, believe it or not. So therefore I believe it is a good idea to start with the pregnant mother. We require premarital counseling in our state (Florida) in order to obtain a marriage license, and pre-divorce counseling in order to dissolve that same marriage license. Is it not conceivable, then, that we should be requiring some pre-parental classes during pregnancy?

Okay, require sounds harsh. But it has been speculated and in some cases proven that babies in the womb can learn languages, musical scores and other things. Therefore, to teach mothers FROM THE EARLIEST SIGN OF PREGNANCY ONWARD deep breathing, relaxation and other means of ensuring a healthy baby, it should be done. Nutrition is all a matter of taste, but it is equally important. The choices we make have long-lasting repercussions.

Currently, there are childbirth classes which begin in the latter stages of pregnancy. However, this may be “too little too late” because in some individuals it is a lifetime of breathing wrong that needs to be corrected and taught sufficiently to become habit. Yes: how you breathe is as important as what you eat, drink or otherwise ingest. I read a study which said that ONE HUNDRED PERCENT of heart attack victims were “chest breathers” which means that they did not practice deep breathing techniques. Tell me – are you breathing deeply or shallowly yourself as you read this? Do YOU know proper breathing techniques?

Breathing should continue to be taught and reinforced at all levels of education. Each day of learning should begin with deep-breathing and proper nutrition. The proper breathing oxygenates our tissues better, including our brains. The lack of proper nutrition can make it virtually impossible to learn, even for the most eager student.

After breathing, stretching and general physical fitness should be the order of the day. A little stretching and light aerobic activity gets the blood flowing and awakens the adrenal glands to release their precious energy-producing elixir into our systems. NOW we are ready to learn, and will soak up the material like a sponge. Oxygenated, nourished and adrenalated, we can focus more clearly on what is presented to us.

But, you may ask, at what age should education begin? At birth, of course. There are a number of things that can be shown to babies right from the start. Of course, this will vary greatly from one private home to another, but if we lived more tribally, as mankind should, that would be less of an issue. However, I digress.

Children should be tested annually, on or near their birthday for convenience sake, to ascertain what their aptitude and direction is. As that becomes more apparent, steps should be taken to initiate the path each individual needs to travel. While this differs from one person to another, there are certain basics we all need to learn, in order to be capable of continuing our own education.

Once a child shows the readiness for reading and writing, that is the time to begin. Not at a specified age, but rather, whenever their test scores indicate they have achieved the appropriate level of focus and interest. Trying to teach a child before they are ready is like trying to teach a pig to sing: it’s a waste of time and annoys the pig. Therefore a child may be three years old or ten years old when they begin their reading, writing, math with figuring, etc. but this does not mean they can’t be taught other important things in the meantime.

Without having learned to read a child can be taught the lifesaving skills of swimming, CPR and first aid. Prior to knowing how to read words and write them, many children excel at learning to read music and play beautifully. Dance, gymnastics and other physical activities all require no reading. But the confidence to be gained from these things will assist the children in their further quest for knowledge later as they DO learn to read, write, do math and build the strong foundation for the rest of their education.

In other words, I believe that traditional educational approaches often “put the cart before the horse” and in doing so, sell the world short. There is a better way, and if you read further I shall continue to expand upon this idea. Ultimately, as the old saying goes, “the proof of the puddin’ is in the eatin’” so until and unless someone, or rather LOTS of someones agree with me and put these methods into practice, no one can know what good will come of it. I’m fully convinced that it would transform and revitalize learning as the world knows it.

Age-centered learning should be thrown out like old bathwater. It is ludicrous to base education upon the age of the child. While it is true that we can expect most children to achieve certain milestones at certain ages, there are studies that have proven that it is detrimental to force a child to read when he is not yet ready. Interestingly enough, when those who are so inclined wait upon the child to express readiness, sometimes they are not really interested in reading until 8-12 years of age. Once they ARE ready, they learn it very quickly and rapidly catch up with classmates who have been reading for years.

The system I propose would center upon using diagnostic testing to find each individual’s proper learning style and needs, then group children with similarities together for instruction REGARDLESS OF THEIR AGES. When in life are we expected to sit with a bunch of people the same age we are? After school: never. That is not to say that we won’t be required to get up, go to work, perform certain duties, and maintain adequate levels of hygiene and so forth… but I am totally against grouping people together based on their age, once they have left diapers behind.

Speaking of hygiene, since there is no guarantee that a child is being properly taught such things at home, it is best to begin at the earliest possible age to teach the basic tenets to schoolchildren. For example, most people do not know that you need to wash your hands for a minimum of 15 seconds to remove bacteria. I see it all the time in public restrooms: ladies walk in, dampen their hands, soap them for about five seconds, rinse, dry and leave. Likewise, it is recommended that we brush our teeth for a minimum of five minutes, covering each surface carefully before rinsing, flossing and a final rinse with a mouthwash.

Daily life skills may seem to be things which parents should teach to their children, but in the hubbub of daily life, quite often these things are not passed along properly, and the result is another generation will pass along their bad habits (or lack of good ones, at least) completely ignorant of the fact that they are missing something.

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