Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Curse of Specialness

We have created a culture in which almost everyone is deeply dissatisfied with their lives in one way or another.  I’ve written in the past that we all suffer from a deep insecurity which impacts how we feel about ourselves and everything around us.  

Part of that derives from our early childhood experiences within the family.  Part of it comes from the culture we live in.  The images we receive both through marketing and the general media of what “happy,” “successful” people look like and what they possess are images that few of us can see in ourselves, and so the culture both feeds off our insecurity and adds to it.

There is yet another way our culture has created a dysfunctional world and disturbed our lives.  Our culture has institutionalized the need for everyone to be special, and I’m not using that word in a spiritual sense.

From the time we are children, we learn very quickly that those who are valued, who are rewarded and get ahead, are those that excel.  Whether it’s at sports, classes, or personality, the people who are valued and rewarded … often even within the family …  are those who excel or at least are perceived as excelling. 

And so each of us, virtually every moment of every day, has this knowledge hanging over our head like a dagger or guillotine.  We know that if we don’t “measure up,” we will suffer the ignominy of being viewed as “just” normal, average.  And in our society, that is viewed as a terrible fate; there is no respect in it.  And so it feeds our insecurity.

To say that this contributes to the high levels of stress felt by Americans as well as the high levels of depression is an understatement.  The felt need to be special or else plays a significant role with how we view ourselves and our place in the world.  

Even if one does feel special, it’s a no-win situation for two reasons.  It sets up expectations about what we deserve, and when we inevitably don’t get what we think we deserve we are frustrated and angry.  Also, we know that if for any reason we slip or someone supersedes us, our downfall will be quick and merciless, which feeds our insecurity.

Another negative impact is the way those who feel special often treat others.  They tend to look down on those whom they consider as not being special and often express their disdain.  This creates unpleasant and damaging human interactions, whether it’s the school bully or mean girls or the imperious diva or corporate head.

Why has this culture developed as it has?  I can’t really answer that question, but I can say that somehow the assumption developed a long time ago that people will only produce at their top ability if they are rewarded for it through their pay or status.  Even religions use heaven to encourage good behavior and hell to discourage bad … indeed that may be where this dynamic was institutionalized.  

This assumption has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Virtually no one these days does their best just for the satisfaction, the good feeling of doing their best.  Instead there needs to be a prospect of them being rewarded and acknowledged; that’s what makes them feel good, not the fact that they have done their best.  And if they have done their best and are not rewarded they either resent those who can’t see the value of what they produce or feel that they’ve been a fool or question whether what they’ve done is truly good.

For this reason, as well as a host of others, we need to return to a more spiritual society where people do good work because they take pride in what they do, irrespective of what anyone thinks of it.  And for that to occur, people must have a sense of self-esteem and security that allows them to be independent of these external influences.  And for that to happen, everyone must be and feel valued, not just those who are special.  A complex chain of events I’ve written about previously.  (See my post, “The Root of All Abuse and Violence -  Insecurity.”)

I know this seems like an impossible effort.  How can one change the world we live in even if man has created it?  

The answer is that we can change it one person at a time.  The world can go on being as crazy as it will, but you have the opportunity, both for yourself and your children, to change your relationship with yourself and the world around you.  That is indeed the only thing one truly has control over.  Not that it’s easy exercising that control, but it is possible.  (See my book, Raising a Happy Child.)