Today was a hard day at work, lots of phoning. I phoned the utility company, multiple times, to sort out a problem with missing invoices, then phoned people who owe money to encourage payment, and although no one answered, I left messages that I hope were not too garbled. I find this draining. I also feel I have approached one task wrongly and am struggling to find a new approach because of autistic rigidity. On the other hand, it was late, I was tired and maybe I just wasn’t thinking straight.
It made me think about something I saw on the autism forum recently, about whether you want to cure your autism. A lot of people say they like their autistic traits. I tried, and largely failed, to find any autistic traits I have that I like or value. I am very trusting and ingenuous, which I like, although it’s dangerous as I don’t always realise when people are lying to me. I can see that some autistic frum (religious Jewish) people probably find autistic logic helps them to understand Talmud. It doesn’t work that way with me, but maybe my ability to draw connections between different Jewish texts is, on some level, an autistic pattern-identifying ability.
Is my integrity and search for personal authenticity an autistic trait? I think some autistic people would say yes, but I’m not at all convinced that neurotypical people have less integrity or authenticity.
That said, whether they are autistic traits or not, I do value my integrity and authenticity. I have quoted the following passage (from The Quest for Authenticity: The Thought of Reb Simhah Bunim by Rabbi Michael Rosen, p. 355-356) before, but it’s important to me, so I will quote it again:
Yet with all its concern for the people, it must be said that the average Jew would not have found his place in Przysucha. The Kotzker might have been more strident, but the value system of Przysucha by definition excluded the Jew who did not want to think deeply, who did not want to extend himself, who wanted neither the agony nor the ecstasy, but who just wanted to identify and feel heimish (at home). There was no place in Przysucha for the Jew who simply wanted to pay his dues to the religious party, as it were, without being forced to ask the question, “But why?”…
By its very nature, membership or identification with a group entails some personal compromise. Przysucha was strongly opposed to such compromise. Thus its very nature entailed a dilemma, and perhaps the seeds of its end. However, for many of those who have a reflective personality, the quest for authenticity must have been almost irresistible.
Sometimes I feel I make trouble for myself by pursuing authenticity in this way. That I would like to feel heimish sometimes. It’s probably a spectrum. You can be Chabad, and do Chitas (study the Five Books of Moses, Psalms and the Tanya, the early modern mystical theology work by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi) every day, or you can be Chabad and go to a farbrengen (Hasidic gathering with songs, Torah thoughts, food and alcohol) every so often and get drunk. Who is to say which is more authentic or ‘better’?
I suppose this is how most Jews do what they do, daven (pray), learn (study Torah) and perform acts of chessed (kindness) without always asking themselves (as the Kotzker said) “Why? Why? Why am I doing this? Is it the best thing I could be doing? Am I doing it the right way?” Once you start down this road, you can’t stop, and maybe it’s just as well that most people don’t do this. But as Rabbi Rosen says, for some of us, it’s irresistible. Whether it comes from my autism or not, it is a trait I’m glad I have, even if it’s not always easy to cope with.