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?

Paglia on postmodernism

I became curious about this social critic, Camille Paglia, as she spoke about characteristics of dwindling civilisations at some point.

Here is her interview with the celebrity-academic-provocateur Jordan Peterson. She speaks about her subject with impressive passion. Some of what she says seems arrogant and self-congratulatory but some parts of it are refreshing.

I have it set to the point where she talked about the 1960s and went straight into the no true Scotsman fallacy – which very nearly put me off watching the rest of it along with her body language that doesn’t quite match her words (psychedelics that she identifies with “totally” while also pushing them away with both hands).

But if you soldier on, she says some interesting stuff from 8:00.

 

Roger Scruton on modern art

I came across this philosopher, Roger Scruton.

There are a number of things that scare me about him, not least his appetite for listing his awards on his landing page. The man who claims to be a philosopher has prioritised telling his visitors who has handed him medals and ribbons and when – over telling us what he believes. Oh well.

He has produced this interesting video on modern art. I believe that some of what is created today is art. Some of it is, in my view, so vacuous, and it is soul-destroying to see it being put on a pedestal.

Image: Tracey Emin, My Bed, 1998 via the Tate

 

Path dependence, Chekhov and control

Blogging resides on the boundary between personal and literary for most people.

I just read a heart-wrenching piece, and it’s impossible to comment on it because it is so personal, but for me, it is also impossible to walk past it without reflecting on it given how sorrowful it is.

Anton Chekhov said something that resonated with me:

“If I had left my family and handed them over to the mercy of fate, I would try to find an excuse in my mother’s inadequacy, in my TB, and so on. This is natural and excusable. This is just human nature.” (my translation)

I think the original blog piece is more about gender, but my point is more about sovereignty, a kind of independence from the past.

We are all functions of what we were yesterday, no doubt about it. My argument isn’t about outcomes, it’s about motives.

Our motives cannot be subverted and limited by what happened to us in the past. This doesn’t mean that we have unlearn what we learnt, but rather find the strength to learn even more about that little bit of space in this world where we do have some control.

Inci-dental findings

I have found 2 phenomenal dental things recently even though I wasn’t really looking:

Tepe easy picks

They’re basically like floss, only you can dip them into mouthwash, they don’t hurt and they clean really well. I use the orange ones because my teeth are a lil crowded.

These things are much better than their flagship interdental brushes that stick right into your gums if they’re not perfectly aligned (which is very hard if you’re cleaning the 7 and 8s). Even the smallest calibre of these is too big for me 😦

I also like dental harps. Basically, anything other than the Oral B Satin floss that all dentists seem to love, but I find really unpleasant.

Colgate’s deep clean toothpaste

Definitely the best commonly available toothpaste I’ve ever used.

As an aside, I also used this toothpaste from India that contains some magical herb – which seems to have had good results for me after my teeth faced a bit of a chemical/laziness attack.*

*Basically, I used to live in an apartment in Dublin city centre and work in a busy hospital. After a year of that, I went to the dentist to discover I needed a ridiculous amount of work. I couldn’t figure out why that was.

Fair enough, going around the hospital eating Milk Tray and Celebrations that patients kindly bring in to thank us the nurses isn’t helpful. I had to be up very early for work and I think I neglected to brush my teeth quite as diligently because coffee was a higher priority. But still, it just didn’t seem to explain the extent of my troubles.

So, I decided I wanted to measure the pH of the water supply. The easiest available method for me was a urine dipstick, so I went right ahead and dipped it. 5.5! No wonder my teeth were melting away!

Water pH has to be no less than 6.5 to be safe. Obviously, my measurement may have been artefact, because urine and water aren’t really all that similar. I asked my rocket scientist friends who work in labs if they had access to a way to measure pH. Those came back at around 7 and they gave me rocket-sciency explanations that basically when pH is around 7, you have to use some other method to measure pH to see how close it is to being deionised. A commercially available lab charged something like 400 euro, so I didn’t go with that.

I contacted the official water people with my concerns anyway. They got back to me quickly, to be fair, and told me that they have arranged to flush the area.

So, in line with the scientific method, I went back to my original testing method after the intervention. I urine-dipped it after the flushing – and it came back at pH of 7 – not 5.5. Go figure.

Anyway, I haven’t had any problems since – is that due to better water or to the magical Indian herbs? We will probably never know.

I am trying to figure out why it occurred to me to blog about teeth. Not the sort of subject that lends itself to producing a good long read. I think the reason is that my Image Experiment has demanded discipline. I have the work ethic of a horse, but my discipline may not be so so stellar. Who knew they were different things – and what you can discover when you have to put creme on your face everyday.

 

 

Being motivated isn’t pleasant

“It’s never as good as it looks and it’s never as bad as it seems.”

The 16-17 year old students I work with often ask me how to get more motivation.  They believe that it is some kind of fairy dust capable of turning you an accomplishment-machine, realising all your potential and aiding you in changing the world.

Perhaps. They forget that motivation resembles hunger. You may feel energetic but also increasingly agitated, nauseous and sore. Your mind is focused on getting your gullet filled, that’s it. You feel unsettled and uncomfortable. You feel anxious as you mightn’t last long enough to find food. You think of all the different ways to satisfy the hunger – doing nothing is just not an option.

Being motivated isn’t pleasant.

Sometimes, we all feel excitement at a new beginning, at how much we are going to accomplish. This pleasant sensation differs from what I would call motivation. We all need such an elated state sometimes to carry us through, but we borrow it from the emotional bank and will have to pay it back with interest. This loan covers over the obstacles that will get in our way and helps us to get started. If you want to feel elated, all you need to do is ignore reality.

Not a sustainable solution.

I think all productive people oscillate between feeling hungry and transiently being satisfied with what they accomplished.

Follow @astalderea for more original words and mindful musings

A post shared by Jane Alder (@astalderea) on