When I was raising my two children, I used to tell them that they were not special. Some of my friends were aghast, as if I were inflicting some form of mental torture on them. But I did tell them that they were unique, which is far different and more powerful than being “special”. Uniqueness is multi-dimensional. It’s more than a linguistic distinction – it’s a real difference in how we look at ourselves and how we perceive others.
Specialness is ego driven. It separates us, not unites us. By definition not everyone can be special. So if we are special, then we are above others. “I am special – you are not.”
Just look at our society. We are enthralled with royalty –is there really a divine right of kings? Magazines are dedicated to celebrities. To be a celebrity you don’t necessarily have to be talented. You can just be outrageous or narcissistically outspoken. We even have television shows with the word “idol” in it. Idol worship is garishly inappropriate in a country that supposedly embraces the fanfare for the “common man” and believes that all people are created equal.
We have to tell children that they are unique and one-of-a-kind. But so is everyone else. Uniqueness celebrates the individualistic character of the human race, while specialness separates. Honoring each individual for their uniqueness and providing opportunity to develop and apply it is part of the American dream. So in a way we are all connected by our unique talent, perspective, personality, appearance and character.
With the constant drumbeat of telling children that they are special, we can easily become a nation of narcissists, who look externally for their need for admiration and sense of worth. They are ego driven.
A Forbes magazine article, “Are ‘Millennials’ Deluded Narcissists [January, 2012] discusses the American Freshman Survey. For the past 47 years, the survey has been given to thousands of college freshmen. The article indicates that more students than ever consider themselves gifted and 80% rank their “drive to succeed” above average. In other words, the students feel pretty special about themselves, which the article stipulates can lead to a sense of entitlement.
Uniqueness is not having your picture on the cover of a monthly magazine Oprah style. Your bank account, your college degrees or your job titles are not markers of uniqueness. When people die it is interesting that we remember their character, their idiosyncrasies and foibles, and their relationships and passions.
In the final analysis, our uniqueness unites us as ‘one-of-a kind’ human beings who will never be duplicated.