You are special. I am special. We all are special creatures. So why is it that some of us think we’re better than others?
I’m a Mom now and I understand the temptation of applauding every single thing my daughter does. Whether it’s eating all of her food or the other end of that equation, it’s hard not to praise her for things that aren’t really praise-worthy in the big picture. Her grandparents, aunties, and uncle think she’s the most adorable person, too. Her slightly older cousins fawn over her on FaceTime chats, trying to impress her with somersaults and ballet moves. My daughter means the world to us in every possible way. But I cringe at the thought of letting her know just how special she is.
According to a report on CBS News, we all believe we’re above average, more worthy of praise and attention than we may actually deserve, “people think they are better than most people in many arenas, from charitable behavior to work performance.” Whether it’s overestimating our intelligence or our driving ability, we tend to think of ourselves as superior to our peers, family and partners and the strangers who cut us off or slow us down in traffic.
Chris Rock illustrated this behavior well when he talked about his wife’s troubles at work (treating the gift-wrapping department at JC Penny like “Dynasty”). The perception that people are “out to destroy us” puts us in a compromising position. And the truth is, people usually aren’t trying to destroy you; they’re not even thinking about you all that much, really, because most of the time they’re thinking about themselves and just how special they think they are. You needn’t look any further than our selfie-obsession to understand this.
Part of this is valid primal protection. If we don’t value ourselves, we’re not going to be adept at survival. And for children, it’s necessary to know they’re the center of their parents’ worlds for a time—it helps them feel protected and secure to do all those growing up things that are scary. But too much praise can be damaging and create a delusional worldview. And as we age, many of us fail to lose this burdensome sense of entitlement, which can spiral into full-blown narcissism or other mental health issues that can fill our lives with unnecessary drama and stress.
The self-obsessed seek constant validation, or create situations that may make them appear victim to others’ attempts at dethroning them from their special seat. The new age/self-help spiritual communities are filled with people seeking confirmation that they’re special and unique and deserving of constant praise rather than doing the real spiritual work, which comes from selflessness and helping others who truly need it. “Only when we learn to manage this balance between our own needs and those of others can we have genuinely satisfying, intimate relationships with other people,” says F. Diane Barth, LCSW in Psychology Today.
But it’s also rampant in Trump’s America (particularly from Trump himself). We’re insulated in our bubbles that not only validate our world views, but tell us that simply by having these belief systems is an indication of our special-ness. Picking sides these days has become a reward-system all its own, pushing us to push agendas not only for what we believe to be the betterment of the planet, but for the comfort of self-applause as well.
In his 2014 book, “Revolution,” Russell Brand petitions us to change the current system. He has notoriously opted out of voting and thinks we can change the current power structures by other means, none more important than a wakeup and self-realization to the oneness that connects us all. “Now, let me remind you: This is your planet, you can change it if you want to,” he writes, “You can change it by doing loads of drugs, by having it off with women, or by going on a murderous rampage with a licensed weapon. Doesn’t it make more sense, though, to change it by binding with your fellow man and working to create a society that’s fair and just? Of course it does.”
As woo-woo as it sounds, Brand has a prescient point that may be vital to our willful evolution: when we see ourselves as connected to everyone (and everything) else on the planet, our sense of self importance fades into a sense of self purpose. And the distinction is critical: We don’t have to lose our identities or passions to make the world a better place, but losing the feeling like we matter more than others is indeed a game-changer that just might make the future a better place where we’re all fed and clothed and able explore our uniqueness without the sense of failure if it’s not our naked ass on a magazine cover.
So, we’ve started to tell our daughter: you are special to us. And I’m ready to remind her when the time is right, that it’s what she does with her specialness that’s more meaningful than what she expects from it.
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