January 2012

“Mockingbird” offers sweet lessons from a child with Aspergers Syndrome

Mockingbird by Lisa Erskine may be a teen book, but it made great reading for my husband and me. It’s the tale of a young girl, Kaitlin, with Aspergers Syndrome who struggles to cope. We both learned a lot from seeing the world through her eyes. 

mockingbird-128x150Kaitlin has a very literal view of the world. She is confused by statements like “lunch will be served on the lawn.” Her mind doesn’t make the leap to the fact that lunch is actually on tables on the lawn. Similarly, she has difficulties with common figures of speech. She has a sometimes irritating, but often delightful simplicity and honesty. 

One striking thing in the tale for me was how Kaitlin became intrigued by words that represented important concepts. The word “closure” became an anchor for her attempt to resolve her issues around the loss of her beloved brother in a school shooting. The word “finesse” and “empathy” guided her struggles to develop social skills. That is true for all of us – once we name a concept, it becomes more concrete and real for us. Effective words provide compelling anchors. 

Here’s a phrase Kaitlin invented. She didn’t like the chaos of recess, so any discomfort became framed as “that recess feeling.” Ever since, Bob and I started noting to each other when we get our own “recess feelings.” Our shared experience of the book created a shared language of a feeling we both experience. 

Mockingbird is a great read. You’ll learn a lot about Apergers – and if you’re like us, you’ll also learn a lot about yourself. 

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PowerPhrases take a magic eye

East and west meet in the Movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. One of the characters loves India and the other does not. At one point the dissenting character asks the perfect question.

Power Phrase

  •  What are you seeing that I’m not?

Most conflict happens between people who see the upside of one polarity and the downside of another. It’s easy to dismiss people who see the upside of the perspective you don’t embrace, and the downside of the one you do.

It’s more effective to ask about what they’re seeing that you’re missing.

Have you ever looked at a “Magic Eye” illustration? At first it looks like a bunch of odd images. Once you develop the “magic eye” you can see embedded three dimensional images. Before I developed my ability to see them, I was tempted to conclude that those who said they saw them were playing tricks on me.

Which brings us to the second PowerPhrase.

  • How are you looking at it to see it that way?

My husband couldn’t see magic eye images either – until he received instructions about how.

face vase illusion

A question of style

My husband and I have very different styles. For years, we were baffled by each other’s perspectives. Once we developed the habit of inquiring into embracing the other’s view, we started learning a lot about each other – and about what perspectives we were missing. Now, the same qualities that once seemed so baffling are the qualities we value most in each other. 

In fact, as many people do, we went through stages of conflict to compromise. But once we became able to more readily see what the other saw, we also became able to more readily collaborate without compromise.

Style differences are often the result of favoring the upside of one style and dismissing the upside of another. Likeables and Visionaries see the beauty of being people-oriented and can miss the value of being task-oriented that Directives and Reflectives embrace. And visa versa. Visionaries and Directives see the value of speed and can miss the value of a more considered pace that Likeables and Reflectives embrace. You can explore your style here

One perspective can complement another

It’s like the standard images where you can see one thing or another. Is the image on the right a face, or a vase? The answer, of course, is yes! And the most interesting thing about it, is the two images are interdependent. Take the faces away and there is no vase. Take the vase away and there are no faces. So if you see one aspect and someone else sees another, their view does not negate yours, it augments it. 

When you find yourself on the opposite side of a polarity from someone, you can learn the most by shifting your perspective to see what they see. Only then will they be likely to be able to hear your concerns about the downside of the side they represent and the upside, or value of your perspective. 

We can cling to one view or another, but the reality is much bigger than any of us see by ourselves. That’s why it takes all of us talking with each other to move forward. 

But wait, there’s more. There comes a point where you cannot just see the face and the vase alternatively. You can see them simultaneously. Communication gets even more dynamic when you do. 

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