In 2014, David McCullough, Jr., published a book entitled You Are Not Special, in which he took dead aim at society and the education establishment’s efforts to make students feel “special.” McCullough was dead right then, and very little has changed since then, especially not for the better.

But, unhappily, it’s not just students who are demanding to be treated as special. It’s pretty much everyone in the United States, or so it seems.

Most dictionaries define special as “distinguished by exhibiting unique, superior, or outstanding characteristics” or in similar terms.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the current U.S. population is 327 million people. I’ll grant that everyone is “unique,” in the same meaningless way that every snowflake is said to be unique, but not everyone, not even a majority of people, is outstanding in any way, except, of course to ourselves and the handful of people who truly care about us.

Being, or not being, of a particular race, creed, ethnicity, gender does not make one “special.” Believing in a particular creed or religion does not make one special. Having great innate intelligence or athletic ability does not make one special. What makes anyone outstanding is not that a person exists, but what that person has done with that existence, particularly what they have done that makes the world, or a part of it, a better place in some fashion.

That view is, of course, somewhat Calvinistic, and definitely at odds with the idea that merely believing in a deity is enough to obtain some sort of stature or theological grace. In the end, what gets things done, especially for the better, are focused and consistent actions to that end.

You’re not special…except through your actions.

9 thoughts on “Special?”

  1. Chris says:

    I wish something akin to (but not exactly like) the Total Perspective Vortex from Hitchhiker’s Guide. Assuming something people would survive it.

    1. Chris says:

      And that’s what happens when you revise but don’t proof read. My intent was to say:

      I wish something akin to (but not exactly like) the Total Perspective Vortex from Hitchhiker’s Guide existed and everyone would be forced to experience it. Assuming people would survive it, it would help dispel the specialness of everyone.

  2. Tim says:

    We have a similar problem in the UK where every soldier who has served abroad is apparently a hero. Coming from a military family, that is worrisome as it diminishes those who truly deserve the title.

  3. Lourain says:

    There are a number of adjectives that have been debased in recent years. Special…genius…greatest…huge…worst…
    I am sure most readers can add to my short list.
    I think part of the problem is that people confuse the words with reality. Calling something special or greatest does not make it so.

  4. Jeff says:

    Love it–nice and concise and points to a problem that threatens our society. I’ll have to check our McCullough’s book.

  5. Arin Komins says:

    This…”You’re not special…except through your actions.”

    Life motto right there. Something I have always gotten from your works, too.

  6. Nathaniel says:

    “You are not special. You’re not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You’re the same decaying organic matter as everything else.” – Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club.

    This sentence is, as near as I can tell, the origin of the term “snowflake”, used to describe allegedly easy-to-offend young adults and adolescents. At the time it referred to the tail end of Generation X, later as it grew in popularity, it got thrown as an epithet at the larger millennial generation, and it still gets usage at people of that age group today, (as does the term “millennial”, albeit it that’s increasingly erroneous as they came of age entirely after the millennium).

    It was spoken by the character Tyler Durden, a character that (I’ll assume spoiler warnings aren’t necessary for a 23 year old book with a 20 year old Hollywood film release) grew out of the protagonist’s own mind, an incarnation of his base desires to control, to dominate. It is followed by these sentences:

    “You’re the same decaying organic matter as everything else. We’re all part of the same compost heap. We’re all singing, all dancing crap of the world.”

    It is literally intended to represent the kind of propaganda designed to break individual spirits down and replace them with loyalty to the in-group as the necessary component of fascism. It gets hurled at people for the crime of caring about perceived injustice and inequality, taken as proof of their inherent humorlessness, usually by people infuriated by the comment “cancel all white people”.

    And I’m continually underwhelmed by the problems that proponents of its usage seem interested in solving with it. Not appreciating someone else’s sense of humor. Having conversations about social justice issues the proponent doesn’t care to have. People feeling “special”. Or just the latest incarnation of generational rivalry. Near as I can tell, every generation in recent history has been unable to determine why every other generation thought it was so damned special. I imagine the not-so-recent ones were similar.

  7. Wine Guy says:

    In your teens and twenties, you are convinced everyone is watching and judging you. In your thirties and forties, you decide YOU don’t care. In your sixties, you come to realize NO ONE, outside of your family and very closest friends, cares.

    My wife and children are special to me. I flatter myself to think I am special to them.

    I do not know (or care) if anyone else thinks I am special. I have reached (almost) the end of my 5th decade and perhaps I am coming to the understanding that no one cares.

  8. Tom says:

    Hippocrates cared; but not in a self-centered manner.

    Live long and prosper!

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