Friday, September 28, 2012

Life: A Shared Experience?

I had a meeting yesterday morning and I made it a point going in to make the most of it. Well, not the meeting itself but I wanted to see how people react to what's being said. I usually am looking at a fixed point in space, perhaps a spot on a table or a car outside the window, but I wanted to go back to how I was writing when I did my sunglasses experiment and truly observe those in my surroundings.

Quickly, I was in shock! It had been so long since I made it a point to look at the face, and the eyes of others. It was an overwhelming experience at first as it was information overload for my brain. I wanted to quit and go back looking at the table, but I wanted to try and learn something yet not knowing what that would be.

As the meeting progressed I noticed just how much people look at each other. What I mean by that was that anytime a joke was made, or a funny line said, there was laughter and then, almost like it's programmed into people, everyone looks at each other. This confused me. Was this look some sort of code that I didn't know? An inside joke that I had no way of knowing? Those probably aren't the answers, but then I thought, is this looking at each other the way people do a way to share the experience?

A shared experience is something I don't understand. I know how I feel but I never have understood making the emotion of the event a shared experience. Is that what those looks at each other were in the meeting? But yeah, that shared experience has puzzled me forever. This is one of the things that confuses me at sporting events. Yes, it's good when the home team wins, but when I've been to a sporting event and the home team scores it is beyond my comprehension how strangers high-five each other and sing the praises of the player together with complete strangers.

The biggest example in my life that confused me the most, as to why people had this shared experience, was at the opening day of the movie "Cast Away". Late in the movie when the main character returns to Nashville after several years his former girlfriend informs him about the changes in the world and that Nashville now has an NFL team and they missed out winning the Super Bowl by "that much" which was just a few inches. The game referenced was the game the Saint Louis Rams won and when that was said on the screen an enormous roar came from the audience. I've never seen anything like it since, but there were high-fives, people stood up to shake the hand of their cheering neighbors and the whole thing lasted a good minute. I actually had to rent the movie to hear that minute of dialogue because of this. But, was all this under that same concept of life, for people not on the autism spectrum, being a shared experience?

I don't think I could ever partake in those examples as I don't know how people do it. I truly have no idea how people so naturally and effortlessly share in the experience of a joke at a meeting, or cheer with strangers at a sporting event. With all of these examples it was as if I were a phantom in an environment I don't and couldn't understand. I do everything I can to avoid contact, to avoid looking at another person, and yet everyone else seems to do it without thinking about. My automatic tendency, meaning I don't think about it, is to look away while everyone else, it seems, does it without thought.

Right now I'm wondering if I'm missing out on something. Is life a shared experience? And if it is does this sharing of the moment increase the joys of life? I do everything I can to remain as flat as possible in public; I don't look at others and I don't share how I feel. However, are the joys magnified when experienced with others? Would the reaction at the movie Cast Away have occurred the same way if each person had watched it alone, or did the group amplify the elation of that line? And if all this is true, does this mean that I am truly missing out on something?


  1. Aaron, in my experience, joy expands to something larger when it is shared with others than when it is experienced by myself. Painful feelings shrink when I share them with people I know and love. Groups of people amplify the emotions that each would have felt alone and somehow bond each person to a larger group, and this is why riots and mob action happen.

  2. I think people look at each other for reassurance that they have done the right thing and all agree on what just happened. People have a herd mentality. Behavior is contagious. I bet if you slowed down the sound of the cheer that went up in the theater, you'd hear a few leaders as well as stragglers, just like a herd. People need to be able to make sense of the experience, but in a split second, if they can make sense of what the leaders are doing, they're likely to join in, or sometimes even if they don't make sense of it. Once they realize everyone is doing it, they jump on the bandwagon because that's just how most people are. "If a man does not keep pace with his companions perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away" - Henry David Thoreau. Never be sorry for being you. You are completely you, and you are wonderful. You are not watered down with the mentality of the herd, and I for one don't believe you experience any less joy than anyone else. Remember the windshield wiper game? Case in point. By the way, you'd make an excellent anthropologist. You're so objective.


  3. I agree with the previous comment, pretty much. Too bad it's by someone called A non mouse. We think we've got problems. That's a heck of a handle to go through life with :) Love your blog postings, Aaron. You provide me with so much insight into my own experience of life. I'm an old lady who managed what in my youth were simply referred to as 'quirks' by becoming a fairly capable potter and hiding out in a shed working with clay and listening to the rain on the roof and a radio for 40 odd (very odd) years. You're doing great. Thanks.

  4. None of us who are diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome can truely look into the eyes of someone else or have a meaningful conversation, but we can still pretend. It doesn't have to be real, it's the emotions we get from it. It's like being a real person, if we autism people ever had it before... What I'm trying saying is that you really aren't missing out on life and its simple joys. What you're missing out on is the optimistic bliss in pretending that you are yourself, not a hurtful sterotype that the world classifies and shoves in a filing cabinet in a cold heartless place.
    No,we aren't like that. We are someone, we are ourselves. "Be yourself, everyone else is taken."- Oscar WIlde

  5. I agree with the previous comments. How you are going to do this is different is dependent on the situation. In a group situation, it's better to be concise when you share these things. However in one-on-one situations, you can go in depth sometimes because the occasion may a purpose.

    In general, agreeing is easier than disagreeing. Agreeing, you can say as simple as "I feel that way, too." Also, you don't have to go first if you don't want to. Disagreeing, however, you then have to go explain why you feel that way and you maybe the only one. That said, it's more important to be truthful to what you feel. So, you need to constantly think before you speak, as people say.