Wednesday, August 12, 2009

You are not special

I was watching The Incredibles (gotta love Pixar) with my daughter the other day while reading the book The Narcissism Epidemic at the same time.

I love the line from Buddy, the Incredibles' nemesis, when he talks about selling his technology to people so that when everyone is super, no one will be. Poor Buddy, his feelings were hurt when Mr. Incredible told him as a kid to fly home - he works alone. Basically Mr. Incredible didn't need help because he was bigger and stronger than anyone else - he was special.

It's a great movie where the family pulls together, the kids get to use their talents and skills (as long as they aren't sticking it to the other kids), and the good defeats the bad in the end.

So how did you feel when I told you in the title of this post that "you are not special"? I'm not sure that is the prevailing thought for most people, unless they have extremely low self-esteem. Haven't you ever had the thought that you are at least more important than that person? I know you think you are a better than average driver; I know that, because almost everyone thinks they are a better than average driver (more coming on this later). You've sized yourself up at some point, maybe while standing in line somewhere or in the midst of humanity, and thought, "I deserve better."

But isn't that what leads us to think that we deserve more than someone else? Isn't that when we decide that other people shouldn't live in our neighborhoods and shouldn't attend our schools, and ultimately it leads to the decision that some people don't deserve to live?

I know most of us haven't been going around wishing death on people, but it all stems from the same thought - I'm more special, I'm inherently more valuable. Maybe because you think you contribute more, or you value your skills more. This is what keeps me from becoming a materialist, from an all-in evolutionist (although Christians can certainly exhibit a "holier than thou" attitude). I don't believe that any one of us should decide that. It is what is at the bottom of most conflict - we both think we deserve it [whatever it is] more than the other person.

I like this quote from the Flobots' MC Jonny 5 (a.k.a. Jamie Laurie) about the song "Handlebars":

The song "is about the idea that we have so much incredible potential as human beings to be destructive or to be creative. And it's tragic to me that the appetite for military innovation is endless, but when it comes to taking on a project like ending world hunger, it's seen as outlandish. It's not treated with the same seriousness."

The book "Narcissism" (191) talks about this growing trend for people to act as if they are entitled and are special. Special means above average. You don't have to be a math genius to figure out that if everyone is special, no one is.

If you are a parent, you may not like their advice at first: the book talks about the problems of parents telling their children that they are special.

Now I know if you are a parent, and you love your kids, it doesn't quite feel right telling your children that they are just average. "Goodnight, Davey, goodnight, Matilda. Remember - you are just middling, undistinguished, unexceptional children!"

I know that they are special to you. Tell them that. Tell them that you love them. Tell them that they have unique personalities and wonderful gifts. But the authors believe that we may be raising socially destructive people if they grow up really believing that they are inherently better than others.

Every life has potential, and every life has value. It may not be realized at the moment, but maybe with the right community support and training, everyone can contribute, in different ways, and be a part of something bigger than themselves rather than themselves being the biggest concern.

You can be unique, you can have certain gifts that are above average. But even being too unique can cause problems for teens; those that see themselves that way don't have close friends and relationships, and are more apt to be depressed and face suicidal thoughts. We need a healthy dose of understanding our strengths and contributions that make us unique and realize our commonality and web of connections with others. Like a team of diverse people working together to do something special.

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