Hero Woman Isn’t A Jerk To Autistic Supermarket Employee, Wins Internet

One of the surest ways to go viral on Facebook these days is to write a post about a normal everyday interaction in which you were not a jerk, impart some kind of morality lesson to those reading, and pretty much sit back and wait for the cookies to pour in. The latest in this trend is a Michigan woman’s story about her trip to the grocery store in which she heroically was not a jerk to an autistic employee who didn’t do a good job of decorating her cake.

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Full text:

Picked out a cake at Meijer. Asked bakery-looking-employee if she could write on it for me. She said she would, and after a long time, she came and presented me with this cake. I looked her In the eye and said thank you before I even looked at the cake. After looking, I nervously laughed and headed to check out- it didn’t really matter to me that it looked so bad- I thought people would think it was funny. The cashiers at the self check out didn’t think it was so funny though, and called a few more cashiers and a manager over to look, even taking pictures. To my surprise, after they discussed it, one cashier put her arm on my shoulder and said “the girl who wrote that has Autism. Thank you for smiling and thanking her- even though she’s not supposed to write on cakes, you probably made her day.” So I guess the moral of the story is that kindness is important!

I get it. This story is supposed to be heartwarming. But you’ll excuse me if I feel some kind of way about it. I don’t think the woman who wrote it had bad intentions or is a bad person — although I do worry she might get a sore arm from all the back-patting here — but I do feel a tad icky about the hundreds of thousands of people sharing it like and acting as though this was some kind of heroic act. As though accidentally being nice to an autistic person, rather than being a jerk to them, is something that deserves applause. That is honestly a little weird to me.

Let me just say this: If I were working in a supermarket and someone asked me to decorate a cake for them despite my not being a cake decorator, it would probably look way the hell worse than this cake does. This employee wasn’t bad at cake decorating because she has autism, but because cake decorating is actually a pretty tough thing to do. I’m sure there are lots of autistic people who are very good at cake decorating, just as I am a neurotypical person who can’t even draw stick figures very well.

In fact, there are a lot of supremely talented artists who are on the spectrum, like Stephen Wiltshire.

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I do believe that kindness is important. I like to think that most of the time, when given a choice to be kind or to be a jerk, I go with the former option. I don’t post about it on Facebook because that seems oddly self-satisfied, but I try to be a decent human.

However, I’m just really uncomfortable with the way this plays out. Like, we are supposed to see the picture and go “Oh man, that sure is a poorly decorated cake!” and then, after reading the heartwarming story — wherein the big reveal is that the person who decorated it is autistic and possibly had her entire day made by this woman not being a jerk about the cake — and learn an important lesson. That is that someday, hopefully we too can positively impact someone’s life by meeting the lowest standard of basic human decency.

I don’t really like people thinking that being not-shitty to a person who isn’t neurotypical or has some kind of disability, cognitive or otherwise, is a glorious mitzvah of some kind. You’re not a “good person” for not being shitty to someone, you’re just not a total ass. There’s a difference.

I’m not trying to shit on this woman or the people who shared it. If it makes them more aware of how their behavior might affect someone, then I guess that’s a good thing. But you should be a nice person because it’s the right thing to do, not because you want to be congratulated for it.

[Facebook]