You know those moments where you cringe to think about how far you’ve come in life in terms of thoughtfulness, only to completely fail in one stupid, thoughtless moment? Yeah. I had one of those moments last week.
My roommate works with autistic people. I know this. I know a small amount about the autistic spectrum — obviously, I could learn more, but I’m not completely ignorant if the subject is brought up. And yet, in one swift but incriminating moment, I referred to autistic people as “retarded”. Jesus Christ, Sam.
I’m not even going to try to excuse myself; I’m ashamed that it came out of my mouth, even if it was a mistake. Even if as soon as I said it, I wanted to die a little bit inside (and here I go, making excuses). I keep thinking to myself, I shouldn’t make mistakes like that anymore… I’m 27 years old, and this is 2016.
As my mind devises ways to punish myself for my slip ups, I remember two adages that make me laugh in juxtaposition: “See every day as an opportunity to better yourself,” and “Love yourself for who you are.” They don’t make me laugh because they are in conflict — they make me laugh because people assume that they are.
The only way that they are in conflict is if you believe that your identity is in stasis. Humans are an ever-fluctuating, beautiful mess: it is in our nature to evolve, and adapt to our surroundings. This happens over time, sometimes so slowly that we don’t even realize that it’s true until we look back on our lives. True human nature is found in this change — in these contradictions.
I love small spaces, and I love people, but I hate over-crowded rooms. I make sex jokes all the time, but I am not even visible in the dating scene. Contradictions. And there are more embarrassing, personal contradictions, when people say what they don’t mean, or mean what they don’t say, or don’t understand the emotions that they’re feeling so they inaccurately describe them to the world. The thing is, people see these contradictions, and they label them as flaws. And while it’s true that you don’t want to be made entirely of contradictions (that’s called an identity crisis), having a couple is not a terrible thing. They are what make us human. They show that we don’t always have everything laid out and organized, and our emotions don’t always come out in an appropriate manner because they are human emotions, after all.
We are fluctuating beings. We take in our environments, process new information, and adapt ourselves accordingly, and not always 100% appropriately… but we try. In this regard, it is wonderful that we change. And yet, while we should always look to better ourselves, there is still a necessity to be in the here and now, appreciate where we are in our walk, and recognize that while the journey is more important than the destination, the journeyer is more important than the journey.
It’s a difficult balance, made a hell of a lot easier when you have people holding you accountable. It is a great idea to have people who will not only correct you when you make a mistake, but love you as you try to fix it. There are many people in my life, like my roommate, who put me to shame on different issues, and this is a good thing: to feel shame for mistakes made is to feel growth, for they are usually connected. You don’t always feel great when someone holds you accountable, but you should feel appreciative that they are doing so.
A lot of time we don’t look for accountability partners because we are too lazy to make the change. Other times, it is because we don’t want to admit that there’s room for improvement. When you take a class, your teacher or instructor keeps you accountable for the new information you take in. When you work on a team, your teammates keep you accountable for the ground you cover together. When you’re by yourself, you rely on an unreliable source — yourself — for that accountability. Ah, the benefit of community.
In this case, perhaps it is time for me to learn more about the autistic spectrum, instead of just knowing enough to get by and leaving an opening to slip up. See, making mistakes leads to learning opportunities. Embrace them. Embrace change, and embrace yourself. And embrace the people who stand with you in this ever-fluctuating system we call life.