Saturday, June 28, 2008

Quote Of The Day: AnneC On Team Sports

This quote from AnneC's "Existence Is Wonderful" I thought really hit the nail on the head vis a vis the Autistic Spectrum experience with sports:

"I was horrible at sports. Really horrible. I found the 'team dynamic' incomprehensible to begin with, to the point where I often had to be reminded which team I was on."

Yep ... I'd have to say that sums it up pretty well.

Of course what's quite frightening is that SO much of the modern business world is based on sports analogies, it's quite remarkable that, even though those with "high functioning" Autism and Asperger's can be enormously intelligent, that intelligence can't be put to practical use in many professional settings as the neurotypicals pick up cues from people on the Autism Spectrum that are perceived as "unsportsmanlike" or something of the sort.

And perhaps that's why some with autistic traits tend to gravitate more towards collective forms of organization. If you can't tell the teams apart, everyone must be on your side, right?

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At June 29, 2008 at 2:15 PM, Blogger AnneC said...

You said: Of course what's quite frightening is that SO much of the modern business world is based on sports analogies...

Indeed. Though I have to say, until I read your post it didn't really occur to me that the analogies were potentially being employed by businesses intentionally. With that in mind, a lot of what I've observed in corporate culture does strike me as incredibly "gym class" (or perhaps high school sports) in nature.

I've never been able to get behind the whole "company pride" thing, for instance -- this is not to say that I don't think the companies I've worked for have done things worth being proud of (I used to work at a coffee shop that made kick-ass espresso), but as far as I'm concerned, you can't "force" a positive personal identification with a company through "team building" activities.

Well, maybe you can with people whose personalities and cognitive stylings respond to that kind of thing, but it doesn't work for people like me. In high school, there were few things as capable of invoking the "anthropologist on Mars" feeling as Pep Rallies were. I just couldn't see what was supposed to be fun or inspiring about seeing the members of various school sports teams run frenetic relay races involving carrying raw eggs in their mouths (and then spitting them out, possibly on other people -- I can't remember exactly what the point of the egg thing was, but I remember it being messy). And the screaming...I didn't get the screaming at all either.

You said: And perhaps that's why some with autistic traits tend to gravitate more towards collective forms of organization. If you can't tell the teams apart, everyone must be on your side, right?

I'm not sure what you mean by "collective forms of organization". I wouldn't say I assume everyone is "on my side" -- rather, I tend to see people whose actual goals and principles coincide with mine as being on my side.

E.g., (to use what I hope is a "politically neutral" example) when I worked for the aforementioned coffee shop, I wouldn't have considered only people who worked for that particular coffee shop to be my "allies in coffeemaking" -- I'd also have considered any person capable of brewing a really tasty cup of coffee to be a kind of "ally" in that regard. I didn't have any qualms about visiting (and enjoying coffee at) "competitor's" shops, or pointing out cases wherein a different establishment might better suit a customer's needs. (If there's one thing that drives me batty, it's when stores try to convince you that you don't really want what you want (which they may not offer), but that you really want something else that they do just happen to offer).

Honestly, the most accurate approximation of how I see the concept of "people working together in groups" comes from the fictional religious philosophy of "Bokononism" described in Kurt Vonnegut's novel Cat's Cradle. In Cat's Cradle, you first have the notion of a karass, which is defined as "a group of people who, often unknowingly, are working together to do God's will."

Now, I'm not religious (neither was Vonnegut, as far as I know), and I'm perfectly willing to admit that I could be "cannibalizing" this statement in a manner potentially inconsistent with its meaning in the story, but I see the karass concept as very close to my idea of what it means to actually work productively with one's allies. Which is to say that if you strip away the religious language ("God's will") and replace it with something like "outcomes that make the most logical sense given the principles of those working toward said outcomes, the material constraints of the real world, and a focus on proper ethics", you get something that closely resembles my concept of "teamwork".

Contrast that with the notion of a granfalloon as presented in Cat's Cradle as : "a group of people who outwardly choose or claim to have a shared identity or purpose, but whose mutual association is actually meaningless." I guess you could say I see school sports teams, company "team building" exercises and policies, and supremacists of pretty much any ilk as being "granfalloonish". Whereas I see loose communities of people working toward, say, civil rights objectives, solid engineering practices, and other goals where "what is done" matters infinitely more than what the people who do it look like or claim to be associated with as more like "karasses". In the "karass" situation, you can even have people essentially "working together" without either even knowing that the other exists, because their ultimate goals are compatible.

(and wow, this comment got long, but I wanted to make sure I got everything in...)

At June 29, 2008 at 2:20 PM, Blogger AnneC said...

...aaand, I didn't even manage to get everything in in my previous comment, as I forgot to note that the whole "having to be reminded which team I was on" thing happened often in the context of my having scored a goal for the "wrong" team. I tended to get excited about scoring at all -- that is, I saw the point of the game as more about accomplishing what I saw as the primary mechanical objective than about "beating the other guys".

I could be very competitive on an individual basis at times (e.g., in 5th/6th grade I was obsessed with winning the spelling bee), but I couldn't really think in terms of "me and a bunch of other people in purple shirts really need to beat the people in the green shirts".


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