>So I am writing today about a dangerous myth that pervades out society today. Something that makes many of the people I love the most miserable. The same myth that allows dozen’s of people I know to convince themselves that they are re-incarnated “god/desses,” or destined for some kind of special fate. This idea fuels a sense of entitlement in people, the idea that they by virtue of existing and occupying space, deserve some of our time. The “You are Special” meme is to borrow a phrase from some of my heroes, “Bullshit!”
I know this goes against what we have been told since before we were able to understand it. Since I was young I have been told that I am special and destined for great things. My mom told me every morning, “You are special Andrew, go learn something new” every bishop told me, “You are destined for great things in the Kingdom Andrew, if you are faithful” Kindergarten teachers shared stories about how everyone is “Special” I heard this idea everywhere in my small little world. Following the best advice of the day, my mom, church leaders, and teachers all sought to instill in me a sense of confidence, a “positive self-esteem” and an understanding of my value as a human being, and that I could achieve great things.
The “be anything you want to be” message was parroted in Reading Rainbow, Elementary school, and Middle school. This effort, well intentioned, and mostly effective, put the cart before the horse. All of those studies that noticed that successful people have high self-esteem, seem to have assumed that is was this “positive self-concept” that enabled them to succeed. In reality it seems to be the case that those who succeed, develop a positive self concept as a result of success. The idea the “high self-esteem” will cause success is so pervasive, that many people find themselves with a disconnect between reality and their functioning.
The question is basically this one, “If I am so special, why does my degree only entitle me to more wage slavery? Why haven’t I become the next Einstein, or something?” This amazing self-concept begins to crack when we go into the real world. Our understanding of being special depends on out, being well, special. If those things we were told were true, then we should be better than, or at least different from, every other working stiff, who was told the exact same thing. The elaborate fantasy worlds created in video games, and television are a way of getting back our specialness. They let us insert ourselves into a narrative that makes the lies we were appear to be true. Facebook does the same thing. So do blogs, and religion. These illusions are lies that placate us, saying that where we are is good enough, that we are still special even though we work in fast food.
Being special isn’t enough to be happy. We are all special, just like the billions of snow flakes falling in the midwest right now. What we really want is to be successful. The games, and lies of “specialness” and “self-esteem” are designed to hide this fact from us, to get us to run on a treadmill, the bishops advice about faith was included because he, and the church wanted to define success for me. Same with my mother’s advice, learning was success. In the “Real World” we’re told that a job, and a car, and a house are success. The issue is that, someone has to lose at that game.
For something to really be special it must be rare, so some people set themselves aside in little enclaves where they, and a few of their friends, can be the “most special.” I see this all the time in virtually every group of friends I have. Some of them dive head-first into delusions about their special spiritual sensitivity and deep personal relationship with [insert god here]. Some latch onto a group with clear rules, and seek to succeed at that game. Others choose to refuse to play by the rules of anyone but themselves, demanding that anyone who associates with them does so by their rules. These solutions don’t really breed success, just the illusion of success.
Success must be created on terms that are relentlessly realistic. We can’t give way to flights of fancy, or imagined specialness. There is nothing wrong with being special, what is wrong is to imagine that it entitles us to an easy life. We are special, and that means that we are able to make choices to enable our success.