on looking stupid by knowing what i’m doing at work and forgetting to laugh at people

I had an interesting call this morning at work.

I work in tech support at a company that scans websites for security problems. It’s a very typical third culture kid job, and a very atypical job for autistic people. I have to really stay on top of my tai chi practice or I couldn’t deal.

A few years ago, I was really thinking about quitting my job to get an MSW. Instead I drifted into customer service, rather than programming, which is what I expected at the beginning of therapy. I think it helps me that I actually view people as equal, because I just talk to everybody and try to respect them, and it seems to work. Really, I’m there to fix stuff after someone else was stubborn or irrational with them, refusing to listen. It’s sort of like when you call Comcast, and you have to talk to 3 people and it’s a nightmare, but then you FINALLY get ahold of something who can talk to you like a human being, expresses sympathy with the stupid bullshit you just endured, and fixes your shit on the spot. My job is to be that person. “Oh shit, other people couldn’t solve this problem on their own. Figure it out.”

It’s actually very much like being a social worker, in that I worry about bureaucracy issues and people’s feelings, except in the context of Large Corporation’s cross-site scripting remediation efforts. I advocate for customers and work within a big technical system embedded in a big social system. It’s a battle against toxic masculinity and theory-of-mind impairments of normal people.

It’s part of my tai chi practice. The strength of yielding. When I started working at the company, I opened vulnerabilities. Now, I listen to and validate customers’ reasons for wanting us to close vulnerabilities. The difference between me and other people is just that I have a cooperative, constructive attitude, because I’m an anarchist and a Buddhist and believe in that. Other people power trip on saying no to things, believe they know what’s in the customer’s interests better than they do, stick rigidly to policies when they’re absurd in context. I’m honest and impartial about the causes of problems. I’m not defensive. My first instinct is to close the vuln and apologize.

I’m good at understanding when customers think there are logical problems with our criteria for opening vulnerabilities. That’s what this morning’s call as about.

Websites often have various things “in front of them,” including web application firewalls. They block requests that look like attacks, ban suspicious IP addresses, etc. A customer had one in place that was set up to block bot traffic, and our scans ARE bot traffic. A scan is basically having a malicious robot crawl your site and generate thousands of errors. In order for us to scan at all, they had to make an exception for us in their web application firewall.

The problem is that, independent of these considerations, people followed standard procedures and opened up vulnerabilities that amounted to “lack of bot detection.” It’s a less-common situation for customers to have already solved it to the point that we can’t even scan.

Obviously, it’s annoying to report those issues as vulnerabilities. No big deal. I’m here to fix shit like this. Solution: close the vulns and make a note so people see warnings about it when they open related tickets. We also stopped caring about cross-site scripting that only works in old versions of IE, so a legacy vuln was closed because it’s just lame beyond a certain point. The only person who’ll get attacked in that way lives in an imaginary universe, and we are here to deliver actionable findings. Due to Bayes’ theorem, there will always be a lot of false positives, and our service is to sift them out before reporting anything to the customer. I catch false positives that get through. It’s always bad when a false positive happens, but everything usually works out if I just acknowledge it and make it go away without being a douchebag.

I solved the problem robot-like, without feelings. But not really.

It’s more like I just described the problem, abstracting away all the social elements.

What inspired this post was that I was on the call with an account manager in addition to the customer, and he’d turned on his webcam for no particular reason (I have mine taped over). You could observe all his body language.

This is the key: my normal coworker (remote on the East Coast) made a comment in chat that his body language was hilarious. I genuinely didn’t know WTF she was talking about, and awkwardly explained about the autism and the interrupting. I asked out of curiosity, and she said he paced and folded his hands in front of his chest, as if that told me anything I didn’t already know.

As far as the outside world is concerned, I just looked retarded and naive. I “naively” and sincerely try to solve the problems, and I try to be honest and respectful and remember that they gave us a lot of money. I wish people a happy rest of their day at the end of the call. Stupid me, not acting jaded in front of the customer. Being a pushover.

It’s more like…wisdom looks like foolishness to people who don’t understand it. I was actually handling the situation delicately the whole time. The customer was a middle-aged gay dude with a chip on his shoulder, frustrated by the Kafkaesque situation of being punished for working with us (contractual obligations to fix the vulns, has to show reports to HIS clients or The Executives or whoever).

If I were a gay man, I wouldn’t want to deal with James Damore on the phone, ESPECIALLY not this week. So much frustration with arrogant irrationality built up right now. Hates everybody.

There were histrionic tendencies. He reported that he’d tried to submit questions through our website, and they just vanished without being answered. This was very unlikely. It’s more that the answers were AS IF they weren’t answers at all. But I patiently went through the motions of troubleshooting it. Sent test messages, suggested it could be outages on our part, but nope! Actually, that couldn’t explain the pattern he’s reporting. Continue…Could you narrow it down to time periods, so we can narrow it down to a front-end or back-end issue?

Eventually the topic just fizzled out. The account manager didn’t like where the conversation was going, admitting to imaginary bugs. Really, I was demonstrating a willingness and ability to fix shit like that. Kung fu move: “Could you tell me as much as you can about the pattern of vulns that shouldn’t be open? The more details, the better note I can write and try to translate it into our internal stuff.” There was nothing he could find wrong with that idea, and he then admitted that he didn’t know what exactly was opened up for us and what wasn’t, and I suggested a way of troubleshooting that. Problem fucking neutralized.

I actually meant it when I was like, “Dude, yes, our shit should make sense. The status quo is frustrating and irrational. I empathize with the invalidation issues this is triggering for you.” In so many words.

And I talk over people and don’t know why the fuck pacing is bad. I modestly typed back something like, “lol come to think of it I pace when i work.”

Half the time, I’m standing at my laptop and I AM pacing in a semicircles, either around the room or around the whole apartment. The motivation for tai chi was originally to learn the short form as a better stim break. I don’t make eye contact like a weirdo, and I’m not really presentable. Often, I’ll be kneeling or lying on my stomach on the floor during calls. I’m playing with Baoding balls or flipping a pen. I’m biting my nails. Working from home is a reasonable accommodation for me being twitchy as fuck. I’m taking extra Wellbutrin.

Due to this interaction, the customer left feeling a bit better about us, and my coworker left feeling like “ick” because I spoke freely and unashamedly about a freakish thing.

We’re handling the situation on completely different wavelengths. It really is like separate communication channels. I don’t know what’s so bad about how he held his hands, but I have a better idea of what it’s like to be him. He reminds me of other people I’ve met in life. I have autism gender mismatch issues, exemplified in this post, and I’m “out.”

What the neurotypical person inferred, using their body language super powers, just made her laugh at him, which isn’t even nice. Is he picking up something negative from her, that I’m missing?

I think this is probably a lot like how my dad functioned as a social worker, except I’m good at documenting things.

It’s unsettling that I don’t know if this thought process comes as across as bizarre to a normal person.

I had a similar experience at Taco Bell. I go there and get a vegan burrito and feel bad about that fact. But sometimes I cannot daily life.

Anyway, a middle-aged-to-older lady lady came in and started explaining things to the teenager working there. She was having a hard time with the colors, and what they mean. It’s like…green means go, but…? Y’know?

Teenager listened and nodded, then walked off and laughed to himself.

I silently took in the situation. In my head, I was like, “Yeah, schizotypy makes everything seem like a message from some oracle. That can get a little overwhelming, to where you maybe need to plaintively talk about it with a teenager on the way to the bathroom.” I didn’t wait around for her, because the whole point was I already felt like shit, which is why I was at Taco Bell. I’m a crazy person who comes in to Taco Bell high on drugs and orders the same burrito every time! My clothes and shoes are torn up from skating. I also a psychologist with a PhD, dissertation and everything.

My social identity doesn’t compute. It’s more like…it deconstructs the symbolic order. I know how pretentious that sounds. But I force people to think about the contradictions, just by existing.

I could only get the PhD because graduate students are expected to be weird and neurotic as fuck, which they are. Graduate school is a mental health disaster.

I have a knack for seeking out weirdo niche things where you’re allowed to be dysfunctional.

There is and is not a meritocracy. People need to be able to think nondualistically to understand.

Being autistic means I experience the world like this mostly without external validation. Being able to do that was a value instilled in me by my parents. It’s the Jehovah’s Witness way. Knowing your beliefs will be embattled.

I just thought to search for JWs and the word “perseverance.” Excellent idea. Here’s the introduction to Jehovah Taught Us Endurance and Perseverance:

In the northern foothills of the Caucasus Mountains lies Pyatigorsk, a Russian city famous for its mineral springs and gentle climate. Here I was born to Greek refugees in 1929. Ten years later, after the nightmare of Stalinist purges, terror, and ethnic cleansing, we became refugees again, as we were forced to move to Greece.

That’s some real shit. The Watchtower is also for kids.

AFTER we moved to Piraiévs, Greece, the word “refugees” took on a whole new meaning for us. We felt like complete strangers. Although my brother and I bore the names of two famous Greek philosophers, Socrates and Aristotle, we seldom heard those names used. Everyone called us the little Russians.

Shortly after the outbreak of World War II, my beloved mother died. She had been the center of our home, and the loss was devastating. Since she had been sickly for a while, she had taught me to perform many household chores. This training proved very useful later in life…

Sometime later, I became acquainted with Eleni, a lovely, zealous young Christian woman in the city of Patras. We were engaged by the end of 1952. After a few months, however, Eleni fell seriously ill. The doctors found that she had a brain tumor, and her condition was critical. She had to undergo surgery immediately. After much effort, we were able to locate a doctor in Athens who—despite the inadequate means available back then—was willing to comply with our religious beliefs and perform surgery without blood. (Leviticus 17:10-14; Acts 15:28, 29) Following the operation, the doctors were cautiously optimistic about my fiancée’s prospects, without ruling out the possibility of a relapse.

What was I supposed to do in this situation? In view of the changed circumstances, should I end the engagement and set myself free? No! With my betrothal, I had made a promise, and I wanted my yes to mean yes. (Matthew 5:37) Not for a moment did I allow myself to think otherwise. Under the care of her older sister, Eleni partially recovered, and we got married in December 1954.

Three years later, Eleni had a relapse, and the same doctor had to perform another operation. This time he worked deeper into the brain in order to remove the tumor completely. As a result, my wife was left partially paralyzed, and her speech center was badly affected. Now a whole new set of complicated challenges arose for both of us. Even the simplest task became a major obstacle for my dear wife. Her deteriorating condition necessitated drastic changes in our everyday routine. Above all, it required a great amount of endurance and perseverance.

It was now that the training that I had received from my mother proved invaluable. Early each morning, I prepared all the ingredients for meals, and Eleni cooked. Very often we invited guests, including full-time ministers, people with whom we studied the Bible, and needy fellow Christians from the congregation. They all agreed that these meals were very tasty indeed! Eleni and I also cooperated on other household chores, so that our home was clean and tidy. This extremely demanding situation was to continue for 30 years.

Say what you will about the Jehovah’s Witnesses, but they don’t teach you to laugh at disabled people, and that is notable. It wouldn’t surprise me if, should you ask an Elder about Netflix’s Atypical, he might discourage viewership because of the premarital sex.

This is not the Prosperity Gospel. Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t take other denominations seriously as Christians because those other denominations don’t tell it is like is. There might be no earthly reward, but Jehovah will recognize your faith when resurrection time comes.

I respect the Jehovah’s Witnesses for taking religion seriously.

It’s not the Prosperity Gospel, but it’s related to how I pay the bills.