By Dan Coulter
I heard these expressions growing up:
“He's a good egg.”
“One bad apple can spoil the barrel.”
I thought of them both the other day as I rode my bike next to the curb down a wide, empty street. A car zoomed up from behind and, just as it passed close to me, a passenger shouted “HEY!” out the window, apparently trying to rattle me into running off the road and crashing.
Luckily, I kept my balance as I watched the car disappear down the road. I only thought later that I should have tried to see and remember the car's license plate. I was more disgusted than angry.
But the more I thought about this incident, the more I realized how rare this was. How many thousands of drivers have routinely passed me on my bike rides? How many have automatically moved toward the center of the road to give me more space?
This one bad apple made me appreciate the many good eggs all the more.
When you have difficulty understanding social interactions, it's easy to take the nice folks for granted and get hung up on people who hassle you or don't treat you with respect. Having Asperger Syndrome can make you obsess over bad experiences, so you may have to take active steps to keep your mental balance.
Expecting the worst from people can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
But a self-fulfilling prophecy also can work to your advantage. If you look for the best in people, you're more likely to find it. Some people are naturally nice, even when people who have Asperger Syndrome demonstrate some naïve or difficult behaviors without meaning to.
I remember being at a banquet when I was a freshman in high school. I was struggling unsuccessfully to eat the main dish I'd ordered with a knife and fork. A senior girl from another school sitting nearby saw my plight and gently and quietly said to me, “Some foods are meant to be eaten with the fingers.”
It was simple act of kindness that I remember vividly, even when I've long forgotten the reason for the banquet or exactly what I had on my plate that would have been okay to eat with your fingers. It was probably fried chicken. But the kindness is something I'll never forget.
If you have Asperger Syndrome, you can tilt the odds of being treated well in your favor by working on any social skills that you don't pick up intuitively. Books and videos can help, but one of the most effective ways to learn social skills is to take a class and/or to practice with someone.
Depending on the circumstances, it can also help to let others know the reason you have difficultly acting as they expect. In making educational videos, my wife and I have found that many classmates and co-workers are much more understanding and helpful after they discover Asperger Syndrome is behind behaviors they thought were egotistical or intentionally rude. And many are more than willing to meet you halfway if they see you're working on modifying those challenging Asperger behaviors.
Of course, there will always be some people who don't treat others with respect or who prey on others who are vulnerable. You can look at them as prisoners of their own mindset. Maybe they feel they've been wronged and react by taking it out on others. But that's their problem, not yours. You have the choice not to let a bad apple spoil your outlook. Being polite, even to people who aren't polite to you, is always in your best interest.
If you focus on the good people you meet and the good things that happen, it's easier to put bad apple experiences out of your mind. And you can be that nice guy or gal who makes others feel more comfortable. If others see you as a good person, they're more likely to come to your aid and serve as a buffer between you and the bad apples of the world. But also, being considerate is just the right thing to do, and the the best way to use a knowledge of social skills. In 1929, Vogue Magazine published a book of etiquette that summed it up nicely: “The best manners in the world come from kindheartedness and a sense of justice.”
I hope you have many of your own “finger food” moments, whether you're on the giving or receiving end of that kindness. You might want to keep in mind an old saying I just made up, “One good egg -- deserves a dozen.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR -- Dan Coulter is the author of the DVDs "Manners for the Real World: Basic Social Skills" and "Asperger Syndrome at Work: Success Strategies for Employees and Employers." You can find more articles and information on his website: coultervideo.com.
Copyright 2013 Dan Coulter Used by Permission All Rights Reserved