Give this post a look-see on youtube: I Apologize OR Excuse Me
The Asperger's traits addressed in this post include:
*Honesty and bluntness
I want to address this topic submitted by a reader. There are many different directions I could take this topic, and I have pondered for the past two-and-a-half months before deciding what to write. I also took the time to discuss the topic with my Aspie dad and Aspie husband and get their perspectives.
I would like to stay true to the overall impression of this blog by telling a story from my life. However, I also want to add a pertinent doctrinal discussion, since the doctrine of sin is easy to misunderstand. I hope this post gives you more clarity as you navigate the waters of your social life and your spiritual life.
In the past, I did not quickly identify my mistakes as due to Asperger's syndrome, and so the chance to blame Asperger's syndrome was completely overlooked. Then I started this blog and realized just how many of the scrapes I got into actually could be blamed on my being an Aspie. I have seldom played the "Excuse me; I'm Aspie" card. There have been opportunities to do so, but I prefer to own my mistakes and apologize for them directly. Sometimes I add an explanation of what was going through my head at the time of the mistake.
By "mistake," I mean something I said or did or implied by tone of voice that turned out to be socially inappropriate, unkind, rude, disrespectful, or bossy. And when I say I prefer to own my mistakes, let me just add that many times I have NOT apologized for a mistake, but have ignored the existence of the mistake or refused to admit that it was a mistake worth apologizing for.
It's possible that we, as Aspies, would be better understood if more people around us had a grasp on Asperger's syndrome and what it means. That's one purpose of this blog. So if you prefer to tell people you have Asperger's traits whenever you get caught acting out your Asperger's traits, I certainly can understand why you'd want to.
Okay, I'm putting off telling the story, because it was one of my worst moments, when I hurt the feelings of a friend I truly like and admire. I apologized by email, too, even though I could easily have spoken the apology, and that would have been a better choice. Anyway . . . while I was attending college, I worked for a Christian company, where all my coworkers were Christians. At our monthly department meetings, our department head gave each of us awards for demonstrating a specific character trait. That month, I did not merit the award for demonstrating kindness.
And it's all because I am an Aspie - well, because I'm a human, too - a human with a sinful nature, no less. And there's the tricky part - how do we divide our acts into separate categories of "mistake" and "sin," "personality flaw" and "rebellion against God"?
On with the story . . . I attended a musical one night, and I love musicals. It was The Sound of Music, and a few years previously, I had acted the role of one of the nuns in my college production, so I was eager to see how this production compared with the one I had seen from backstage in rehearsals. I enjoyed the play very much, but I preferred the play I had been in, overall, which was only natural.
My coworker's friend had played the part of Maria (the leading role), and the next day at work, she mentioned, with a glowing face, "My friend played Maria so well! I thought she sang just as well as Maria in the movie!"
"You really think so?" I blurted out. "I didn't think she sang that well."
And the glow on my coworker's face faded out right before my eyes. (Who says Aspies can't read body language?) I realized then that I had put my foot in my mouth. So I shoved it farther in.
"I have to be honest," I remarked, "and critical."
"No, you don't," my coworker murmured, staring at me.
What makes me kick myself now was that I implied that she was being deceitful when she gave her opinion that her friend had sung as well as Maria in the movie. My shock at hearing her opinion came not because I was espeically disappointed in her friend's singing, but because of my surpassing awe when hearing the voice of Julie Andrews - Maria in the movie. But there's no reason why my coworker's opinion would not have been a true one.
After all, I had studied the difference between opinion and fact back in elementary school. We had to sort statements into categories labeled "Opinion" and "Fact." But when I heard that opinion, I immediately had the irresistible urge to correct an opinion that I deemed to be "wrong" - an opinion which I took quite literally.
See my post Contradictions and Corrections for more details on why that irresistible urge to correct hits Aspies.
As I grew more embarrassed at seeing how impolite my words appeared to be, I said to my coworker, "Don't tell her I said that."
Then my other coworker, who had mentored me on more than one occasion, finally said, "She is not going to tell her friend you said that - and she would like you to drop it and change the subject now."
My mentor came to me in private shortly afterwards and told me she brought up her children to consider before they spoke whether their words were true, kind, and necessary. Mine, though true, were neither kind nor necessary, and so, apparently, my remarks fell into the category of "sin." The verse that jumped to mind was Ephesians 4:32 - "And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you."
Although my motive had been to set the record straight, my words had come out as rude and unkind and unnecessary. The apostle James was right when he wrote: "But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison" (James 3:8).
I believe, from my study of the stories and principles in God's Word, that God expects us to have both right motives AND right words or actions.
If we do the right thing for the wrong reason, we are not pleasing God. I can prove this from Jesus' words in Matthew 6. "Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. . . . And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward" (Matthew 6:1, 5).
Just as much, we are to blame when we do the wrong thing accidentally, or with the right motivation. In God's law for the Israelites, He wrote, "If a soul commit a trespass, and sin through ignorance, in the holy things of the Lord; then he shall bring for his trespass unto the Lord a ram without blemish out of the flocks, with thy estimation by shekels of silver, after the shekel of the sanctuary, for a trespass offering" (Leviticus 5:15). Ignorance of the law was not a good enough reason to opt out of the required sacrifice meant to atone for sins. In an Aspie's case, ignorance of social customs does not let us off the hook when we hurt people's feelings.
There are also various stories in the Bible in which sins are committed for what seem very logical reasons, such as Abraham's lie that Sarah was his sister, even though she was really his wife, since he feared for his life (Genesis 20).
Another example is King Saul's decision to perform sacrifices himself, though he was not the proper person to do so. Saul gives Samuel his reasons and motivations for the decision, but Samuel pronouces God's judgment on Saul nonetheless (I Samuel 13:11-14).
So, as Aspies, when we are motivated to make things perfect, or tell the complete truth, or keep quiet instead of being friendly, we need to think about the needs of those around us, and say the things that will encourage them.
Complicating this topic is the idea that sometimes truth really does trump kindness. Jesus called the Pharisees hypocrites, which made them very mad at Him, but that is truly what they were, and they needed to be told (Matthew 23). The prophets spoke many upsetting words, but God had sent them to point out people's sins and warn them of coming judgment.
So if we truly see the need to point out sins (or flaws) in other's lives, we'd better be sure we have the authority to do so, and then go for it! They may benefit from listening to our rebukes, or as it says in Proverbs 15:5, "A fool despiseth his father's instruction: but he that regardeth reproof is prudent."
I hesitated to write this post, because I'm not sure we should even be asking the question: Under what circumstances do our "mistakes" classify as "sins"? We can go the extreme of feeling very guilty for sins that God has forgiven, through our faith in Jesus. We can go to the opposite extreme of feeling nonchalant about our inappropriate words and actions, by saying we are simply being true to ourselves.
We can even take the attitude of judging those around us and coming down on them harshly, when we are supposed to be loving and forgiving. Here at the end of my post, I will add some very pertinent Scriptures about allowing God to be the ultimate Judge.
How does this topic apply to Christian living?
Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.
But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.
Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way.
1 Corinthians 4:3-5
But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man's judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self.
For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord.
Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.