Filters: the difference between cool and uncool?

When I was in third grade, there was this kid named Maurice. Maurice had a habit of picking his nose and eating it and not caring who witnessed his indulgence in a little self-produced snack. To him, it was like scratching his head or yawning. He had this silly grin on his face that made him look perpetually benighted and even when the other kids were mean to him, he didn’t seem to pick up on it. He didn’t notice the little signs that people were disgusted with his behavior or the smirks and the dirty looks when people were mean to him. An idealist at an early age, this pissed me off. I tried to be friends with poor Maurice, but he was so exasperating. I mean, how long can you stand watching someone pull big boogers out of his nose? He was also bad at jumping in and playing games- he didn’t know how to do not exactly what he wanted to do.

I sometimes wonder what happened to Maurice. Maybe he finally clued into the world around him and became more aware of all the millions of cues we get from people around us that our behaviour is taboo. Maybe not. Maybe he is still happily picking his nose and making model airplanes in his parents’ basement. I wouldn’t know because I remember distinctly giving up on trying to be his friend.I wasn’t mean to him, but I stayed away. Mainly because he irritated me so much that I was in danger of being mean to him.

Which leads me to wonder, why do some of us get the memo about all these social niceties and others don’t? The reason I bring this up is because I just read a YA book called Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli. It is about a homeschooled girl who decides to go to high school in Grade ten. She wears long pioneer dresses, totes a ukelele and bursts into spontaneous song in the cafeteria. She didn’t get the memo that she made people deeply uncomfortable. In fact, the reason I am going on and on about this is because this kind of behaviour would make me deeply uncomfortable. She would troll the cafeteria until she scoped the person whose birthday it was and sing happy birthday to them. All this was odd yet forgivable until she became a cheerleader and started cheering for everything including the other team. Then the school blamed her for the loss of the game and she was subject to a public shunning. There is a part in the book though where her boyfriend (who happens to be the narrator), is trying to make her more normal partly for her own sake but mainly for his. She has to ask him what normal kids do and how to behave. What do kids eat? What do they wear? Is she laughing to loud?

How come some people don’t know this? And then I had a talk with one of my colleagues and she mentioned this type of learning disability that is characterized by this- it’s called non-verbal learning disorder (they do have a name for everything). Basically it is a disorder that is characterized by the gap between high verbal skills and low social, spatial, and non-verbal communication skills.

So I guess there is a scientific explanation for being “uncool”. I’m glad. I think we all should go around with cheat sheets with facial expressions on them and whip them out when we aren’t quite sure what someone is communicating to us. Laminated pocket facial expression cheat sheets. The world would be a better place, I tell you…

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