“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

Monday, December 11, 2006

Social looseness

Have you ever been to a dinner with a person to whom table etiquette is extremely important? Now I am not talking about wiping your mouth on the table cloth, or grabbing food off of your neighbor's plate, or spitting or swearing. I am talking about the fine points of where the fork needs to lie, or how to hold your glass while you are drinking, or how you cut your piece of meat. I get really impatient with people in such situations. I think they are focussing on things which comparatively aren't really important, particularly when the points of etiquette are used to judge. I find I would rather not eat than have to eat with people who are constantly judging me on my table manners (which aren't that bad, I don't think).

I think some people with cognitive disabilities must feel that way about their church or other community group experiences for that matter. They are constantly being judged on their social skills (which are often not quite there because they do not understand the subtleties of many social interactions). I must say that the more I am with such people with cogntive disabilities, the less their their lack of understanding of social structures bothers me. Now I am not talking about moral rigor. We should as a church and as individuals hold the line on issues of morality because that is a point of obedience to God. However, the social creations to which we have been socialized need more looseness. Particularly in the church, our social structures should be loosened in the name of acceptance. The environment needs to be softened because out of love and acceptance, your presence is more important to us than a particular socially derived pattern of social behavior.

Why do I say this? Solely because such social structures are used as a point of exclusion.
A person talks out in a group too much so he can't be a part of the group (obviously we should be quiet when in groups)
Someone misunderstands the level of familiarity he should display, so he is excluded (obviously I should not stand too close to people)
I am more open/less guarded with my verbal expressions so I should be excluded (I shouldn't express that I love you or that I am angry with you because we just don't do that sort of thing)
I cannot understand your subtle expressions of rejection so I should be excluded (you try to avoid me, and I just don't get it)
I talk to you about my work and you just aren't interested so I should be excluded(you try to move away and I follow you)
I repeat my comments about things which are really interesting to me and you get tired of them so I should be excluded (you tell me I have already talked about those things)
My nose runs and I don't wipe it so I should be excluded (you are tired of handing me tissues)
I need assistance with many of the things which are a part of being in a group so I should be excluded (I just take up too much of your time when you want to also be with others)
All of these are like the person at the dinner table judging my eating while I am doing my best, just trying to be a member of the group eating at the table. I want to be there because I want to be a part of a group, I want to be loved, I want to love you. You turn me away because I don't hold my fork right, or lay my knife on my plate in the right way.

I am reminded again of the verse in Romans 12:2 which says, "Do not be conformed any longer to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - his good, pleasing and perfect will" (NIV). We should not reject needy people, particularly on the basis of what is tantamount to table manners. Could it possibly be God's good, pleasing and perfect will to reject people on the basis of their social skills, their table manners? NO. Could it possibly be God's good, pleasing and perfect will to become a bit more socially loose, and overlook the social skills of others in the name of love and acceptance of those who truly need love and acceptance? ABSOLUTELY. I need to once again reject the patterns of this world and once again be transformed by the renewing of my mind.



Impossibleape said...

I could use a course on unpacking the unwritten laws of social conventions. (I'm not exactly the most comfortable host or guest at social functions.)

I wish I were within 100 miles of CBU because I'd be first in line to sign up for any courses you were teaching.

But as my sainted mother used to say,

"If wishes were horses (or airline tickets), then beggars would ride.

You did a great job of describing the dynamics of failed social interactions that can make people with atypical behavioural traits feel and actually be rejected.

Thanks for all the keen insights and the spiritual remedy for this unsatisfactory situation.

Anonymous said...

It so funny because when you talked about people not wanting to talk to a person and trying to flee the conversationa and they just don't get the hint I thought about my neice. I am now 23 but when I was about 10 years old my neice would bug me! I would try to ditch her but she never got the hint. I know this is sad but hey I was a young girl and didn't know no better but now I realize that I could have been my neice to someone else growing up or maybe even now. So my point is no one is perfect. No one has perfect table manners and if we can't all come as we are then why do we even call our selves beleivers? If we are believers in christ we need to start taking a deeper look at ourselves and our church and accept all individuals regardeless of their "table manners".