Thursday, January 13, 2005


So I've been thinking lately about self-control. For a few reasons, but mostly because of a couple of things I read recently. One was Mosaic, by Soheir Khashoggi, and the other an article from the New York Times about a month ago. The article was about autistic people who are denouncing the idea of curing autism or treating it as a disease, instead of as a complex series of personality traits, like shyness. It was an interesting article, but I find the position to be somewhat frustrating. (If you want to read it: For people with Asperger's, or similarly functioning people with autistic traits, I agree that the public could be a lot more tolerant, and that this kind of tolerance would solve a lot of problems. But the adovcates mentioned in the article specifically refer to violent outbursts. I'm sorry, but the point where you become a danger to others, or to yourself, is the point where a personality trait becomes a pathology.

I feel like it's a huge part of being an adult member of society to practice self-control. We grown-ups have to do things we don't like, deal with people we don't like, behave in ways that are not always exactly what we want to be doing. It's part of what makes us adult human beings. Only one part, but a big one, and that's a large part of why society works. We can debate the ends toward which this self-control is put, but I think not having violent outbursts is at the top of my list.

The other thing I read that fits with this theme was Mosaic. First, though I haven't read it in a long time, I think I'd still recommend the author's other book, Mirage. This one had an all-right plot, though nothing to write home about. The amount of time given to the best friends of the main character seemed out of proportion--if the book is about these three women of different races living and loving in New York, they should have had more time. If it was about Dina, the main character, trying to get her children back, they should have had less. But the characters were just terrible. They were wooden--solid, beautifully carved of oak and mahogany, but unjointed and immobile.

When Dina's children are taken by her husband--out of the blue, while she's at work; she didn't even suspect that there were problems in their marriage--many words, mostly cliched, are given to her inner turmoil. But the author does little more than state that she is angry. If you picture the movie of this book, it involves Dina sitting and thinking a lot. And calm, deliberate thinking--some depressed, some productive, some angry, but not impassioned, not ridiculous. Only once does she hurl something across the room in anger, and never does she scream or yell, never while talking to her husband does she shout at him. When either of them even begins to speak rudely to the other, they stop themselves immediately and say things like, "Is this what we've come to?" She doesn't interrupt when he's explaining his behavior, or try to claw his eyes out, or even claim to want to.

And I'd think it was a character trait, but everyone is like this. Mothers don't snap at their children, they are unendingly patient and often concede to the children, not because they're right, but because they're confident. The teenagers seem like the most realistic characters in this book, and mostly because we never get inside their heads--they just act out, and we're left to assume why. As though adults never do that. As though the self-control required to be a member of society is, once attained, inevitable, and runs bone deep.

I don't know. I think of myself as an adult. I take care of myself financially and physically, I function in the world, socially and professionally. I do things I don't like because they need doing or they're good for me. I don't have a great deal of self control, personally, but even those who do have something more complicated going on under the skin. I think that's what makes it such an appealing trait--knowing that beneath the calm and pleasing surface, there's someone just as messy and complicated as I am.

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