Wednesday, February 24, 2010

People Watching at the Post Office

Ever since I became a student of intersubjectivity, people who annoy me no longer hack me off . . . as much.

Inter-what, you ask? "Inter" as in "happening between people" and "subjectivity" as in "a person's unique thoughts, perceptions, feelings and memories."

Intersubjectivity is a shared thought-life and consensus which shape our ideas and relationships with other people. It goes on all the time, almost unseen until we observe and reflect about our social lives. My friend Kathy shared how a breakdown in intersubjectivity with an in-law helped her see how precious her children are to her, especially the two with autism. Another friend Nifferco pointed out how it helped prevent a meltdown with her daughter after dance class. Penny compared it to children's modes of thinking about numbers. Queen Mum describes how it helps her son better monitor his behavior whether they are out in the snow or at ChuckECheese's.

Today, I needed to mail some books for Paper Back Swap. I walked into the lobby of the Post Office about five minutes before they opened up for business. Two elderly men were waiting and chatting as I boldly strolled up to open the doors. I pulled hard and nothing happened! Then I realized that last November they changed the hours on me! (Where have I been?) We all laughed at my expense, and I joined in their conversation. Another woman showed up, surprised that it was closed. She entered the lively discussion, too.

The fifth person arrived. This elderly woman gave us hardly a glance and marched right up to the locked door and waited. Her body language stated clearly that SHE was FIRST in line. The rest of us exchanged knowing looks about her obvious violation of the unwritten rules of who goes first. Nobody said a word, and yet, we all knew what the others were thinking about the new arrival. I was not upset because I have seen Pamela unknowingly break this assumed code due to her delays in intersubjectivity.

Finally, a sixth man who seemed a bit clueless arrived right before the mail clerk unlocked the doors.

I hesitated partly out of curiosity to see how the jockeying for position would turn out. Clearly, the two men who arrived first ought to go before me. One scooted ahead, but the other was a retiree with plenty of time on his hands. He graciously let all five of us get in line first.

The line-cutter headed straight to the window, completely bypassing the official line, before you could say, "Next please." The gentleman who had every right to go first was second. He had the class to go through the motions of walking through the official line.

Third in line was the clueless man, who was so close on the heels of the gentleman that he missed the sign showing the beginning of the waiting line. The clerk waved him off and pointed to the sign. The man stood there even after the clerk told him where to stand. Then, I realized he could not understand English. He turned in my direction and could only see the blank side of a sign that he couldn't read anyway. I smiled, motioned to him where to stand, and said, "Here." (I probably should have said, "Aquí.") After than, proper line etiquette was restored.

These two rule breakers failed to peeve me because they were great examples of intersubjectivity in action in the real world. Instead of feeling my blood pressure rise, I thought, "What a great way to start off a blog post!"

Yesterday, two sweet moments happened as a result of Pamela's greater understanding of intersubjectivity.

The printer ran out of ink. I really did not intend to show Pamela how to change a cartridge. I just wanted to present an opportunity for sharing an experience, which is how we build intersubjectivity. I slowed down each step of changing the cartridge and looked at Pamela. She sat on the couch and watched my every movement. Suddenly, she began to narrate my actions while she supplemented her words with nice facial expressions. "Uh-oh . . . change it . . . put it in the trash . . . rip . . . all done."

We were waiting in the car for David's band practice to end--he just joined the drum line this week! Pamela rifled through my purse and found my cell phone. She opened it up and pretended to talk to someone, "Tammy's not here right now!" When she finished, I took the phone, "I'm sorry David's at band practice." I handed it back to her and she said, "Steve's not coming home today." He was, and she was only pretending. Then she talked a little more. She handed it to me and I said, "No thanks. We're not interested." She cracked up because she did not expect me to be talking to a telemarketer on a cell phone!

In both scenarios, the highlight was how beautifully she shared joint attention. She paid attention to my every move and added her own ideas to the interaction.


Christine said...

What a wonderful post! I love how you have found moments in everyday life to illustrate the importance of intersubjectivity! And I love hearing how this is blossoming with Pamela. Thanks so much for posting this.

Penny said...

I appreciate the practical, real life examples! I love watching Pamela grow, too! :)

Happy Elf Mom (Christine) said...

I have to wonder about the bossy lady some more. I wasn't ready to move on yet! I wanted to know what she was mailing and who died and left her in charge. :)

Penny said...

I remember the first time someone explained "theory of mind" to me. It was Dr Richard Solomon, a beloved Floortime expert, in a workshop about his PLAY Project.

I remember coming away from the presentation with the idea that "theory of mind" mysteriously comes upon most children and not on children with autism. Dr Solomon didn't give me the progression of development that explained how theory of mind (joint attention) (intersubjectivity) develops. It wasn't until Dr Gustein lectured on the developmental levels of intersubjectivity that I realized that theory of mind doesn't simply happen or not happen -- it grows through a distinct and thoroughly documented set of stages via experience with another person, usually Mom and Dad, and yes, parents have an opportunity to go back in development and "do over" the steps and levels of intersubjectivity with a child on the autism spectrum (or Down Syndrome or other developmental delay) and see the child grow (naturally) in theory of mind.

walking said...

Christine and Penny, I got another blogpost brimming with practical examples from our meals on wheels delivery today.

Mrs. C., our small town has a definite class division. Had she been one of the prissy poodles who thinks she's better than the rest of us mutts, I would not have been surprised. Ms. Queen Bee did not fit that category either. I'm sure her life did not depend upon being first in line. And, since I was respecting waiting line etiquette, I was not supposed to know what she was mailing. ;-P

Penny, you are so right on being able to develop theory of mind. It is so exciting to watch Pamela learn how to read my mind!

Kathy said...

hee hee love it. I t really is a great way to start off a blog lol