This long, strange winter allowed me to see more movies than usual, one of which was The Imitation Game. The movie’s subject, an English mathematician named Alan Turing, was clearly an odd duck, to phrase it nicely. Today we would use different words. He clearly was a man with Asperger’s Syndrome (on the autism spectrum) – brilliant, but with no social skills ability.
As a younger man during WWII England, he was not understood, or liked. Nonetheless, the times were dire, and his brainpower was required to crack the Nazi code so that Britain wouldn’t be bombed off the map. The story chronicles how he ended up working the military’s top-secret Enigma program, and despite not being liked by the small group of mathematician code crackers, they learned to trust him and his unique gifts.
After a rocky start, they worked together towards a common goal with life or death consequences, and succeeded in cracking the code by harnessing everyone’s insights. First impressions can blind us to the very things we need the most. Ironically, the code wouldn’t have been cracked if not for all of the polar opposites working together: men/women, gay/straight, Communist/Capitalist.
This pioneer of computer science also happened to be gay, and found himself in trouble during post-war society. His secret war record was expunged, and local law enforcement didn’t see him as the brilliant patriot he was, but rather a suspicious character clearly up to no good. His different behavior was investigated until his homosexuality (a crime back then) was revealed. Court-ordered medication ate away at his brain and his spirit, until he took his own life. Instead of being celebrated for his tremendous contributions to the world, he was hounded to his death, to die alone in despair.
I couldn’t help but wonder how many other inventions or revelations Alan Turing would have made, had he lived a long life. How many other unknown geniuses has society lost to trauma and suicide? If we can’t create a society where everyone’s unique gifts and contributions are valued, we may never solve the world’s intractable problems: hunger, cancer, poverty, homelessness, war.
April is Autism Awareness month. My family will walk to promote not only awareness, but tolerance for people on the autism spectrum. They are not all geniuses, but they all do have unique contributions to make, as family members, as employees, and community builders. With their ever-growing numbers, they remind us that we don’t have to think or act the same way to matter or contribute. Just like Alan Turing. R.I.P.