Perfect is the enemy of good enough

Like many autistic people I know, I’m prone to looking for the one right social solution.

But sometimes – many times, there is no perfect solution. Especially in tough situations, there’s often times when you can’t avoid pissing someone off – or hurting someone, for that matter. Unless you let yourself be hurt, and in some cases that’s not doable, either. Sometimes you’re stuck in a situation where you have no choice but to hurt someone and it’s up to you to find the least bad option. Good luck.

I’m in such a situation, in my meatspace life. And I can’t talk about it because it’s confidential. But, suffice to say, I’m pretty sure there is no “right solution” to this particular social problem, and that makes it difficult.

Social skills books and exercises and classes and what have you lie. They pretend as if all situations have a right answer and if you know the rules well enough, you can find it. But people aren’t like math. You cannot simply derive what you need from first principles.

You just muddle along as best you can and hope you don’t screw up anything irreparably.

And that’s where I’m at.

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The toilet seat

On the topic of my earlier post today: Here’s a real-life example of a problem that’s a fuck of a lot more difficult and complicated than it seems to an outsider: My toilet seat broke last week. So I had to replace it.

It actually broke on Tuesday, but I chose to make do until Friday because I can’t deal with work and changing something at the same time. So I walked an hour after work to the hardware store and bought a replacement, then was able to catch a bus home. I didn’t know toilet seats come in more than one size (they do, FYI, so measure yours lengthwise in Imperial units if you need to replace it and live in North America), so when they had two sizes, I guessed due to being too flustered to ask to borrow a phone (mine broke at the beginning of summer, my company didn’t send me the repair box when they said they would, and I have yet to work up the energy to phone them to complain at them about it again). I, of course, guessed wrongly. I guarantee you, when faced with guesswork like this, I will guess wrong far more often than can be explained by random chance – I should really choose the opposite of whatever I think it is in such situations.

So I had to go back to the hardware store on Saturday, return the toilet seat and get one in the right size. So I did. By taxi, so it cost $10 each way. With my partner so he could handle the return desk because I didn’t fancy being all, “I kind of guessed because I didn’t know they come in different sizes and I didn’t have my phone and why do they make it in different sizes anyway? Why can’t they make them all one size so this doesn’t happen? It just seems it would make sense [monolog rant about different sizes for same part not making sense when standardized parts would be better].” And I knew as stressed as I was, my brain-to-mouth filter would not be fully operational.

So I got to the hardware store, managed to choose a replacement toilet seat, and went home to repair it.

The bolts were steel. The place is like 40 years old. From the condition of the bolts, I wouldn’t be surprised if the toilet seat was as old as the place is. The top of the bolt disintegrated when I tried to undo it.

At this point, my frustration level started to rise exponentially with each setback. Stress was getting to me, the change in routine was getting to me, and the frustration of realizing at each step of this process, it was turning out to be more complicated and difficult than really necessary was getting to me.

I looked around to the underside, figuring I could just take a wrench to the nut.

The assholes who designed the toilet made it so that the damn nuts were flush with the porcelain. I couldn’t get there with a wrench. It was too tight even for a socket wrench. I tried pliers. Didn’t work.

At this point, I was cursing a lot and near tears from the frustration. My partner reacted appropriately, keeping me grounded and helping me stay focused, and not informing me that I was over-reacting (I already know that, thanks) or that it wasn’t a big deal (I know that, too).

So I and my partner looked online for internet help, since the services of a handiperson probably would cost more than a new toilet. There were a number of methods suggested, including one with a drill.

At this point, I call the owners of the place I live in, since I stay there in exchange for maintenance & odd jobs, buuuuut this could destroy their toilet if I fuck up and I don’t want to be on the hook for cost of toilet. They said no to the drill and insisted that I try a hacksaw first.

Which mean I had to go back to the hardware store.

… I nearly exploded. I did cry a bit and curse a lot and have to clench my hands into fists so tight my hands ached to resist punching the walls or myself. My partner helped me write a list of stuff we needed for both methods because there was no way in hell I was going back to the store again, and I went to the hardware store alone – in part because I needed time away from the fucking toilet seat and in part because I was worried I was freaking him out with my over-reaction to the situation as I was literally only barely restraining myself from putting holes in the wall and I think it was probably the angriest he’s seen me. I normally do my raging in private because I recognize that it’s not helpful and is usually an over-reaction to the situation at hand, but if I could just change how I mentally approach such situations, I wouldn’t have a freaking disability. I had to take a taxi there and back, as my city is stuck in the 50s and has crappy weekend bus service.

So at the hardware store, I spoke first to a stock person who was very helpful and directed me to the tool dept guy who tried to ‘splain at me about how to use WD-40 and a wrench, and I went on a long, profanity-filled rant at him about the asinine design of the toilet that apparently convinced him either that 1, my frustration level was dangerous or 2, I know what I’m talking about. Either way, he stopped trying to ‘splain to the small woman in the store about how to use a wrench and instead helped me find the saw I was looking for and the safety gear I needed if it came to using a drill and risking damage to the toilet.

Back home I went.

Thankfully, the hacksaw did work, else my walls probably would have holes in them considering how close a thing it was to begin with. But that still meant an hour of sawing per bolt. And I haaaate tedious tasks. My partner helped me there, too, taking shifts at it when my arms got tired and making conversation to help me stay distracted from my frustration and the tedium.

Point of this story: Changing the toilet seat, for me, was a lot more difficult than it would be for a lot of people. What made fixing the toilet difficult is a five things: 1, I’m not rich, so the $40 I spent in cabs during this misadventure and the $50 or so I spent on stuff from the hardware store is actually a major setback to my budget. I will get reimbursed, but until then, I have to deal without $90 I was counting on. So that’s stress. 2, I have a low tolerance for unexpected change. My bathroom looks weird now and I won’t get used to it probably for a few weeks. More stress. 3, I have a nonexistent tolerance for frustration. I guarantee, if I’d been alone, I would’ve caused serious damage either to the walls or myself just from the frustration, or I would’ve said, “Fuck it” and left it broken until someone else dealt with it. Neither of which are really productive, I admit. 4, I have difficulty dealing with disruption to my routine, and that Saturday was about as far from my routine as it’s possible to get while still being in the same house (normally, I spend Saturday in a combination of martial arts, video games, and chores). Moar stress. And 5, I have difficulty anticipating things I might need. If I’d thought to check on the condition of the bolts and to check whether or not they make more than one type of toilet seat before I left for work Friday, the situation would’ve been a lot less stressful, as I would’ve known that A, I’m going to need to cut the bolts somehow since there’s no way they’re coming off easily, and B, what size of toilet seat to buy, so I would’ve only needed one trip rather than three.

And, yet, when I called the owners of the place where I stay to tell them that the toilet seat was broken, guess what they said before I had a chance to finish my explanation?

“Why don’t you just change it?”

 

The problem with advice to focus on solutions

So, I’m going to try to write this in general terms because I’m trying to keep trigger warnings off this post since I want it to be as accessible as possible. If I seem vague or if it seems like I’m not providing an example where one is needed, that’s why.

I’ve seen, both in meatspace and elsewhere on the internet, people extort others to “focus on solutions” to problems rather than problems themselves, because it supposedly will make the person in question happier and it is supposedly more effective. I think that’s bunk. Why?

Simply put, advice to focus on the solutions misses the fact that before you can focus on solutions, three conditions need to be met.

  1. You need an understanding of the depth, scope, and breadth of a problem. In the case of any major problem, you need to understand how it arose, what forces drive it, what enables it, and what its effects look like. You need to understand how far the problem reaches, and you need to know what actions need taking in which order. If you don’t have this, you could very well make the problem worse in a ham-handed attempt at solving it. Those who are oppressed often have intimate understanding of the nature of their problems and know exactly what would fix it if only they had the support and resources. Those who are privileged, on the other hand, need to do their homework in this stage.
  2. You need others to recognize the problem is in fact a problem. Aside from the most trivial of issues, no problem in this world can be solved by any one person. You need to convince others to help you solve the problem, and to do that, you need to get them to realize that the problem is in fact a problem. In the case where societal ~isms are involved, this can be very difficult when trying to recruit the privileged, since the status quo benefits them, and since they’ve been socialized literally since birth to think that This Is The Way Things Are, Always Have Been, and Should Always Be. Consider how many people will recognize in principle that an ism is a bad thing, and then turn around and justify some aspect of said ism because “I’m not a bigot, but the truth is [bigoted statement].”
  3. You need the resources for the solutions to the problem to be feasible. In the case of improving an individual’s life, this might mean money for food/housing/medication, skill training, or networking contacts. In the case of ~isms, this means a large, organized movement.

Until those criteria are met, the problem will remain a problem.

Now, why do people criticize others for “focusing on the problem” when they’re trying to satisfy the above conditions? If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say they’re privilege-blinkered. They falsely assume that 1, everyone understands every problem they face, and every problem being faced by people right now has had the requisite amount of study given to it by academia, 2, everyone recognizes that all problems are in fact problems OR that all problems are the sort of issue that can be solved by the effort of one person through hard work and boot-strapping, and 3, that everyone has the resources to start effecting change.

So, if I had advice to give to anyone who’s tempted to extort another person to stop focusing on the problem? Stop. Talking. Listen to the person who’s complaining. Expand your understanding of their problem. And then, help them fill their conditions. They’re not complaining about the problem because they’re defeatist, they’re complaining because they can’t effect change yet. Either they don’t have the energy to do all the work required, or they don’t have the networking contacts, or they don’t have the time, or they don’t have the help, or they don’t have the money.

And I speak the above to myself on issues of race, class, gender identity, and the ableism issues on which I’m privileged, because all people privileged on the axis of oppression in question, myself included, could use a reminder to talk less and listen moar.