Special like everyone else

“You are unique and special, just like everyone else”…

is a semantic cop out.

If special is better, greater, or otherwise different from what is usual, it means that most everything is usual – and once in a blue moon, we get to see something special.

So, no, everyone isn’t special. (The semantics are very simple: the fact that one is special in the eyes of another doesn’t mean that they are special full stop.)

Unique – is a different matter. Every piece of sh*t is unique, but they’re not quite so special. (Gastroenterology, look away).

Perhaps, it’s a semantic cop out that was trying to right some even worse wrong in the 1960s, when it was said by Margaret Mead, but today it can only do harm.

While building a brighter future during the Khrushchev era, my mother’s generation was convinced that to indicate that you wish to be something greater, yourself, was practically a crime. No wonder, the likes of Ayn Rand were screaming for a different view.

Reading blogs written in the US today, I feel much more aspiration for individual greatness, whereas in this part of the world, “delusions of grandeur” are strongly discouraged.

I think it is damaging for people to think of themselves as being special. It’s the sort of attitude that has people craving accomplishment and its short term substitute, other people’s attention.

If one comes to terms with the fact that they are an ordinary human being, like everyone else, perhaps they won’t feel the void left by… normalcy. Imagine that.

Maybe they won’t reach for their phone every morning for the dopamine hit of someone’s attention on social media that reminds them that they are special. Or look in the mirror to remind themselves of how their perfect skin/abs/ass makes them special. Or look at a wall full of degrees and ribbons to reassert their specialness.

A desire for specialness is mostly about an external locus of control. I think every person swings in and out of that unhelpful state at times, but I went through a transient, painful time when it really hit me hard. Was it my parents/teachers/friends’ fault? Or maybe that’s just social media? Whatever it is, it’s not an excuse to remain this way, so it doesn’t matter a huge amount to me.

In a previous post, some people said that they used to affirm their students’ specialness to them using this mantra, “You are unique and special, just like everyone else”. I think it’s kind and well intentioned, but perhaps not very helpful today as it feeds into the inescapable narrative rather than correcting for it.

I don’t think any teachers of mine ever told me I was special, it never occurred to me that they should. In fact, it would be weird. I looked for self-actualisation in other, what seemed like real, meaningful ways. I feel that this was a good thing. I think my phase of search for specialness was down to the fact that I got into comparing myself to others beyond all context.

This is by no means asking anyone to regress to the mean, encourage mediocrity or prevent people from doing something special. I just don’t think that special things should be done for the sake of making the doer special. They should be done for a real, less narcissistic reason, which usually involves someone else or something bigger than oneself.

And of course, we can define those special as relating to the general population, or better, to the relevant reference group. What is your cut off for special? 5%? 1%? Less than 5% of the population blog, so are we all special? Hmm. You get the point.

Is this as close to a long read as I am gonna get these days, jeez… For what I didn’t manage to say, here is some Radiohead rather beautifully wallowing in the pain of trying to be special, oscillating between idealising and devaluing. 1993. Sounds about right, doesn’t it?

18 thoughts on “Special like everyone else”

  1. Great post. Agree 100%. But, of course, some people are, in fact, “more special” than others. (LOL!) To whit, I name Einstein, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Mozart, et al, ad nauseam.
    Oh? They are just like everyone else but maybe they worked harder? Could be. Is not every snowflake unique? Is there not only ONE Dr. Martina Feyrakhmanova in the entire infinite universe? (That last name is indeed special!) But there you go. Perhaps we are all special, separated only by degrees…


  2. …if a person doesn’t believe they’re special, perhaps they’ll stop trying to be special. “Regress to the mean, encourage mediocrity or prevent people from doing something special.” as you say.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I do not think there is a universal definition of “special” in this context. For example, most people claim that children are precious. What they mean is that their children are precious and, probably your children are precious to you, and that children half way around the world can safely be ignored. Every child is “special” in the sense of “special to someone.” Special is an opinion, not a category. When I say “you are special, just like everyone else” I am trying to provoke thinking along such lines. (You are special to some. You are not special to all. etc.)


  4. I absolutely LOVE this post. I’ve never thought of “special” and “unique” as 2 completely different concepts, only as one in the same. I couldn’t agree more to your distinction between them. As I sit here and think about it, I’m saying to myself ‘well if I’ve thought of myself as special, I’d also see myself as greater than others, possibly forming some inflated ego. But as a UNIQUE person, I see everyone else in their own way with their own talents, strengths, and weaknesses.’
    This has definitely made a small impact in the way I will think about others and myself. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. “You are unique and special, just like everyone else”…The larger issue you raise with this quote is NOT who is special and who is not: it is the normalization and acceptance of Orwellian double-speak with makes it “ok” to communicate with another person in a contradictory, nonsensical manner. No wonder kids grow up ANGRY and CONFUSED. Because, with communication such as this, Nothing Makes Sense!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. As a millennial myself, I remember being told that I was special and unique. I never thought of them as two separate things, but your delineation is spot on.
    As I transitioned from teenager to adult, I had to come to terms with the fact that I was pretty average. I still struggle with that concept regularly. I still clamber for the dopamine rush that comes with every instagram like, and every new email subscriber to my blog. Maybe I’ll finally learn to be okay with this by the time I die.
    I’m sure that’s why there are so many blogs out there. There are so many millennials who want their voices to be heard, and want people to be interested in their every thought. I’m glad the next generation is learning from us, and seeing the damage our neurotic narcissism is causing.
    I’m glad your blog provides useful, helpful, thought-provoking insight. You’re not just adding to the din. Instead, you’re creating value.

    Liked by 1 person

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