General vs. Esoteric Knowledge and Conversation Part 2

There’s a flip side to yesterday’s post on esoteric knowledge (General vs. Esoteric Knowledge and Conversation).  And that’s understanding what everyone else already knows and is familiar with.

This feels like a no-brainer.  And, to the rest of us, it is.

We know, for instance, that everyone’s familiar with things like CNN or Fox News.  That everyone has bad Mondays and hair days (yes, I’m female so I consider these things, my apologies.  I suppose I should have said something macho about football schedules), and looks forward to the weekend.

But, if you think about it, this is just like the little-known fact (like obscure superheroes, facts about chemicals, details in a book, train numbers, NASCAR drivers, etc).  One has to understand where others are coming from to know which knowledge is common, and which needs explanation.

This took me a while to figure out.

I wondered why on Earth the adult men I knew with Asperger’s Syndrome felt like they had to meticulously explain basic things to me.  Did I look like an idiot?  Was I giving them the impression that I wasn’t capable of basic thought and understanding?

It wasn’t about me.

I finally asked one of them why he always started an explanation by talking about simple things everyone already knows.  And he told me it was about covering bases.  Carefully and methodically going through each item on an internal list.  Plus, you never know what others know or are thinking.

This was both revealing and helpful.  Also logical.  I no longer feel like screaming every time I ask for help with something and get run through the basics… again.

For example, if I asked about a problem with cooking, he’d start with, “Did you turn the oven on?”  Now, to me, this sounded insulting.  Yes, of course I turned the oven on!  And I asked about spices, not ovens!

If I asked about building a bookcase (pre-made, lame stuff, not serious carpentering), he’d ask if I had a hammer instead of a screwdriver, or vice versa.  And show me how to wield it.  Again.

If I asked a question about a game to another online friend (with Asperger’s) – a game we’ve both played for years – I’d get a long explanation about simple rules everyone already knows.  Sometimes, it was all I could do not to explode with impatience and frustration.

But it wasn’t meant that way.

When these friends say things that seem obvious to me – “people like it when you say hello to them and use their name” – it makes it clear all over again that sometimes we’re coming from two different places.

And neither place is superior or inferior.  They’re just different.  Hopefully, we can learn to be patient and understanding with each other.

Note: I should say, in defense of my friends, that the first time one is run through the basics, it can be very helpful.

Plus, whenever helping anyone with a subject/project/whatever when one is unsure of the knowledge/skill level, it can be awkward and difficult to know how basic to make things.  I know I struggle with this, and finding the right balance between explaining and insulting (just how much does this person know about computers?  Where should I start with the explanation?).

So adopting a policy of always beginning at the beginning is not a bad way to go.  It’s a good routine… just a little frustrating to some of us impatient people, who’ve been there before. Which perhaps says more about us than them. 🙂


About aspergerfamily3

Living in an Asperger's World, surrounded by a love of learning, interesting people, and daily challenges.
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One Response to General vs. Esoteric Knowledge and Conversation Part 2

  1. Elisabeth says:

    This happens to everyone- running a technical support team one of the things we train is how to judge someone’s knowledge. Do they know how to log in? How to open the program? How to turn on their computer? (We get a wide range of skills and experience!) Starting from the beginning is a good idea, the tricky part is learning how to respond and skip ahead as needed. Some of that is learning verbal cues (do they know what a certain term means, or do they use it correctly to describe what they’re trying to do?) but it’s very hard to teach any way except through practice and experience.

    Absolutely. And I admire that approach. I wandered a bit from my topic into instructions…

    What I was trying to say was that often people with Asperger’s Syndrome really don’t know what others consider to be general knowledge. The same goes for esoteric knowledge. So you’ll talk to a person and find him minutely describing something that everyone would know about, like a bad hair day. Or what a poodle looks like. Or how to hold a hammer.

    My bad for failing to be clear, and floundering around in instructions and how-to steps. 🙂

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