On Not Being a Duck


Imagine you find yourself at a lake filled with ducks. No other people around, just you and the ducks. 

You might spend a lot of time watching the ducks, learning their mannerisms and language, trying to understand their society. They’re fascinating creatures. But it’s often hard to understand. Duck behavior is not logical; at least, not logical to you. You are not a duck. It must be perfectly logical to the ducks. 

Occasionally, some of the ducks will notice you and come up to you. They quack at you, trying to interact with you. You’ve observed them enough that you can even guess at what they want. But when you try to quack back at them, it’s terrible. You’re just not equipped to quack properly. It’s a feeble impersonation at best, and the ducks are confused and unsatisfied. You feel foolish for even trying.

You wish you could explain to the ducks that you mean no offense, it’s just that, well, you’re not a duck. But you don’t know how to tell them. And you doubt they would understand anyway.

Over time it gets better. You learn how to quack much better. Sometimes you even sound like a real duck. At least, they’re convinced enough that they seem to accept you. You think to yourself, hey, maybe I am cut out to be a duck. 

Other times, you are reminded just how much you are not a duck. They invite you to go swimming with them. You can swim, sure, or at the very least stay afloat. But you can’t swim like a duck. They paddle effortlessly around with their webbed feet. They dive gracefully, and the water simply rolls off their backs when they resurface. No amount of observing them will ever give you their abilities. 

You try to tell yourself that it’s fine. You didn’t drown, after all. And the ducks even welcome you to come swimming with them again. But you also feel ashamed and inadequate for not being able to swim like the ducks can, frustrated that you will never, ever be able to swim like the ducks can. 

And then there’s the flying. You know you can’t fly. No matter how much you watch the ducks, no matter how good you become at imitating other duck behaviors, you just physically can’t fly. 

The ducks don’t seem to understand it. They seem to think it’s a choice you’ve made. To them, you’re just that strange duck that doesn’t like to fly. You still wish you could make them understand that you’re not a duck, you’ve just become adept at certain aspects of imitating one. But maybe it’s for the best that you don’t say anything. Maybe they’d think you’re crazy. Worse, maybe they’d be angry at you for pretending this whole time. 

So instead you just say nothing and keep pretending. You’re very good at it by now. But it can still be difficult at times. There are days when your throat is sore from the quacking that still isn’t, that will never be, completely natural. You still get exhausted from so much swimming; you’ve become a strong swimmer, but you just can’t keep up with the ducks. 

When they go off flying, you try to console yourself with all the things you can do that ducks can’t. You’re far, far better at walking on land, for instance. For a moment, you even feel superior. You could outrun any duck in a footrace! But footraces don’t matter to the ducks. And, if you’re being honest with yourself, you’re not sure footraces matter to you. You really just want to fly…

4 thoughts on “On Not Being a Duck

  1. Such a true metaphore. Impossible to explain it more accurately. A good way to show NT how it feels to be an Aspergian. Thanks for sharing!

    Enviat des de l’iPhone de la Nini Gili

    > El 3 febr 2020, a les 9:29, Aspergers From The Inside va escriure: > >  >


  2. I started to cry because this post describes my experience with humans so well. My Mom always called me “the ugly duckling” who would grow up into a “beautiful swan”. She was referring to the fable. I always felt hope as a child when she affirmed me in this way. My bio-father was mentally ill, and in fits of rage when I was an infant, I sustained head trauma, coma and partial avulsion of the tip of my nose making an ugly scar. Cruel kids kids called me “hook nose” growing up. I grew tall fast, beyond the heights of all the boys by 4th grade. By high school, I was nearly 6 feet tall. A fast metabolism made me (Popeye’s) “Olive Oil” skinny, another nickname. Lucille Ball followed in high school due to my antics, all unintentional, I assure you. I was voted the friendliest student my senior year because I was able to “mask” so well, I could interact with every “clique” , i.e. the nerds, the brainiacs, the jocks, the misfits, the druggies, etc.
    But my swan transformation was contingent on an inner “swan revelation” rooted in my God-given value all humans possess. It had nothing to do with my outer appearance or behavior or acceptance by people. At 57, I am beginning to feel like the swan my mother said I’d become. My genetic make-up is swan DNA, not duck. Ducks are precious and talented. But swans are too. Knowing other folks are out there who have struggled their lives-long to fit in with much rejection, helps me spread my wings in a glorious display of uniqueness, without fear of human opinion, set free to be the me I was born to be.


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