This article was a journal assignment in the Applied Project course at the end of my undergrad studies at UAGC. It was submitted October 17, 2022.
I’m not much into motivational speakers or inspirational words. They just don’t code for me the ways I think they’re intended. “Be the change (trouble) you want to be in the world,” or “Only those that attempt the absurd, achieve the impossible,” are both sayings that I’ve found some comfort in in the past, but neither of these really speak to my career goals or personal trajectory of growth. Instead, I would like to share a couple of lines by the great Tom Waits from his classic song, “Heartattack [sic] and Vine,” released on the album by the same name in 1980:
“Don’t you know there ain’t no devil,
“That’s just God when He’s drunk.”
The first time I heard this line was in the mid-1980s during my tumultuous teenage years. I was struggling with the concepts of morality versus ethics, having been horrifically disillusioned by the Roman Catholic Church. I was painfully aware of our impending doom either from nuclear annihilation or climate collapse or economic dystopia, and I cast desperately for some kind of ballast or meaning to help me sort out how people could be so very, very wrong about everything. Why didn’t the heads of state care about their people? How could people make such messed up choices that caused such catastrophic damage?
What was the true nature of evil (the devil)? Is there such a thing as evil? If there’s no evil, is there truly something called “good” (god)? For that matter, what makes someone a villain or a hero? How do we know that “we” are the “good guys” and that “they” are the “bad guys”? What events transpired that support either of these statements? Who wrote the stories that we learn from, and how do we discern the bias from the truth? If the winners are the ones that write history, where are the stories from the other side, and what can we learn from that? What are we missing in the consensus discourse that will give us an accurate view of the world?
I was a really weird kid. (Not that anything has really changed.)
Here’s where this matters to me and my future career. From meditating on this line, I determined that nothing is ever just one thing. Moreover, questionable behavior has a cause. On top of that, reputation does not equal identity. Throw it a little bit of powerful figures have flaws just for good measure. Villains are convenient illusions based on heroes.
Never trust appearances, question everything.
Consider the idea of what autism, ADHD, and other neurodiversities is to the average human. Auties are social morons and/or idiot savants; they’re creepy, loners, rude, cold. People with ADHD are lazy, disorganized, impulsive, unreliable. The stereotypes about people with schizophrenia, dissociative personality disorder, and other forms of sociopathy/psychopathy are notoriously negative, and all of these tropes are carried in the public psyche to the point of dehumanizing all neurodiverse people to some extent.
As a neurodiversity advocate and educator, my quest is to dispel the myths about us and redirect the conversation to remember that we are humans first. We’re gods and devils, and how we’re treated determines which side is seen the most – just like everyone else. Humans on the whole are dichotomous and messy; NDs are just more obvious about it. Our needs are louder and more extreme because our personal internal, sensory, and emotional experiences are louder and more extreme. When an environment adapts for us, though, everyone in that place benefits.
My Personal Quote
I’m not sure what motto or phrase can adequately follow up Mr. Waits’ quietly profound statement, but I will give it an honest effort.
How about, “Socks before shoes!” (Think about what steps come first to naturally support the ones that come after.)
Or maybe, “Loving something doesn’t make it good.” (Your opinion doesn’t change the intrinsic nature of a thing: Birdemic will always be an objectively horrible movie, even if you enjoyed it. This applies to situations, jobs, humans, and relationships, too.)
I could keep it simple with, “Remember the human.” (Start by recognizing the individuated nature of another being before applying names, labels, or diagnoses, and remember that no label or action on their part will ever change that fundamental fact of humanity.)
“Rule 1 of ADHD: If it’s not written down, it doesn’t exist.”
“Food is love.”
“If you can’t make your own neurotransmitters, store-bought is fine.”
“Does that belong there?”
“Just because something is misunderstood doesn’t mean it’s automatically right (or wrong).”
There are really so many different ways this could go. I think that the assignment intended to give us, the students, some kind of motivational boost to get us through the last bits of class and into our next adventure, but that’s not really something that resonates with me. As a Buddhist (thanks in part to my experiences with Catholicism), I have a lot of wisdom to fall back on for guidance, so let me leave it at this:
Outliving the odds and living well is the most punk rock thing ever.
Waits, T. (1980). Heartattack And Vine [Music album]. Asylum Records.