Not long ago, I watched a story on the TV show, 60 Minutes, about the many autistic adults with the ability to perform certain tasks with genius level proficiency, yet seldom get past the interview for jobs for which their unique abilities are critically needed. The potential employers, who again, often desperately need exactly what the applicant has to offer, disqualifies them before giving them the chance to demonstrate their unique skills. The reason this happens is because the employer, like everyone else in our culture, sees the applicant’s communication ability, as indicative of how effective and successful that person will be on the job. As it turns out, what we consider effective communication is the one thing autistic individuals lack and is characteristic of the autism condition. They require much more time and patience than the rest of us in order to get to where they can communicate their capabilities.
After observing the remarkable abilities of the people featured in the program, (so remarkable that NASA has instituted an entire protocol in the space program based on the insight of one of the people interviewed for example), I couldn’t help but to ponder what is it that we consider effective communication and why. I concluded that society views effective communication as communication that accurately conveys the ideas of the communicator as quickly as possible, with little or no need for follow up. This streamlined human interaction is driven by the ethic that tells us success in anything is defined as getting the largest return possible for the least amount of effort. It says that the least amount of time you have to invest in any one individual in your system, translates into more for you; more time, more money, more profit. If the individual has to lose so you can succeed, so be it. This may all sound very advanced and 21st Century, but the problem is, that ethic is not sustainable in a finite world. Untethered growth and expansion will result in humans over running the Earth and burning through all its resources, including air and water. The fact is that for any system to sustain itself indefinitely, it must replenish what has been removed, and must find productive use for any byproduct or waste produced in the process. We have been conditioned to act as though our world is limitless and can absorb any mess we make for eternity.
I can hear the purist among you asking, “What’s this have to do with communication?” The answer I would assert is that our communication is a manifestation of our behavior. In fact, I would go as far to say that communication is a behavior. If the human race is to survive we must begin paying close attention to everything we say as well as everything do. The year 2020 has been almost apocalyptic given the level of disease and natural disaster we have suffered. And yet there are those of us who steadfastly continue to vehemently defend the same old ways and the same old attitudes that have us on the brink of total disaster. Call it God or nature or whatever you will, but some higher power may have sent us 2020 as a preview of how our demise as an animal species on this planet will come about – each of us fighting for breath and the elimination of ingested toxins from our bodies until we no longer exist. That is humankind’s future if we don’t start acting and talking about things differently.
It’s been said that success leaves clues. Who knows how many of those autistic people all over the world have clues that contain the keys to human survival. Their unique and unconventional way of thinking may afford them a perspective that the rest of us cannot see due to our regimented, industrial revolutionized, profit seeking way of thinking. We “normal” people have been programed to value money over people and relationships. As such, we may be blind to the simple things we must do to stop and turn around our steady march to the cliff of oblivion. Yet our entire culture is set up so that any person, product or idea not perceived as promising immediate profits for stockholders and owners of the companies and institutions we rely on for our health and wellbeing, are screened out by the gatekeepers of those companies and institutions without any consideration at all. We have been so focused on profits that we are close to incapable of recognizing the treasure of human capital even when it standing right in front of us. This attitude pervades every aspect of human endeavor including manufacturing, arts and entertainment, healthcare, publishing and of course, politics. If we don’t soon get our eyes off the bottom line exclusively, we will have the distinction of being the richest animal species ever to go extinct on this planet.