In the world of neurodiversity every word counts. That’s why I’m moved to write about a pesky little three letter word, used quite recently (and I must stress lovingly) to describe a choice to be quiet about my birthday. That word is shy.
This word was used by a very dear friend to describe my reluctance to advertise my birthday. There are people out there who would want to show their love for you, this friend suggested as she respectfully asked permission to tweet the news. Okay, I agreed and sat back to watch what turned out to be some lovely ripples of appreciation flowing from and her thoughtful gesture.
Though I had been a little taken aback when the 140 character word limit produced a shorthand version of my disposition regarding birthdays as being ‘too shy’, and I immediately tweeted that I wasn’t shy but simply preferred to be quiet, a state I find peaceful and relaxing. This seemed to have settled the matter, I wasn’t too shy and now everyone would know this because I had explained so. My friend and I were cool. Except that people began re-tweeting the too shy tweet (again lovingly and to speed the news) and suddenly that ‘too shy’version of me appeared to multiply and currently rests somewhere in cyberspace. Most likely it rests peacefully and actually, I am grateful for the confusion as it has given me its own gift, that of insight.
So the me who likes peace and quiet has been contemplating the necessity to unpick our everyday language, which contains so many unspoken neurotypical assumptions. This is an excellent example. For ‘shy’, particularly with the addition of ‘too’suggests awkwardness and even a problem. It suggests something that I should really be able to or want to do but can’t, due to too much shyness. It might suggest that announcing or wanting to announce your birthday is the ‘norm’. Also that if one is ‘shy’and doesn’t say about a birthday others can’t show their love for you. Now that last fact is true, but again it tells us something important about events like birthdays and the social codes that surround them. Some of this public birthday phenomena is about the desires of our loved ones to show their love. How interesting this is all of a sudden!
Well back to the kind of birthday I like and why, and why it’s important to differentiate if we want to make progress in peeling back some of these neurotypically dominant layers of assumption within the daily language that surrounds us. Like tissue paper wrapped around a fragile gift we need to remove each crumpled sheet to get to the prize within.
I’m by strong preference a quiet birthday girl – it’s something I really value. Making a choice to be quiet goes against the grain of cultural expectation. We are supposed to want everything to go with a bang and hold a party or mark the occasion in some obviously meaningful way. Over the years I’ve developed the confidence to celebrate quietly, without expectation in a zen-like way. I let the day come to me and treasure every peaceful moment. This is my choice. For me the intensely joyful and powerful work by Rothko shown above tells you everything you need to know about how invigorating this measured acceptance can feel. And all the greetings and gestures arrived at my door as wonderful surprises, unbidden and therefore all the more valued.
This quietness; a stillness around my birthday has become immensely important to me. I crave the absence of obligation and expectation. I seek them as my right. If it truly is my day then I choose to make things stop. How different this is to being too shy!
So what can we make of this in relation to neurodiversity and our rights to be valued and heard as merely different? Well, there’s another side to the story in which today my tweet about not being shy and preferring quiet is rebounding as a re-tweet and finding companions who also like this kind of birthday. These friends also tweet about their preference and I smile as I see a chain of association around quiet birthdays being made. This is fun.
This micro-tale of neurodiversity, birthdays and social media reveal several truths. Collective assumptions are embedded in the very language of the everyday and can trip us up when least expected. It’s surprising how narrow this perspective is when you consider the potential diversity of minds and their possible preferences. So we do well to question these troublesome words, for when we do we find that not only do we assert our own rights but we also enable others to speak. I’ve learned that in catching a distorted reflection in that hall of mirrors that social media can sometimes be we can call out our strengths, choices and self-determination. Now that is worth knowing and using every day too, isn’t it!