Here are two things I need to make you aware of immediately:
1)You can be special to someone else 2)On the balance of probabilities, you yourself are not that special
Sounds a bit harsh, no? Let me elaborate. For the sake of this feature, let us define ‘special’ as meaning significantly better or different from what is usual. A person can be special, or exceptional, via their achievements, but such persons are rare. Every now and again the planet witnesses the ascension of someone who is born special; a Beyoncé or a Steve Jobs or a Kurt Cobain. The rest of us are mostly well-meaning flesh bags, ripe with potential but too distracted or reluctant to apply ourselves.
That isn’t to say that one person can’t be special to another. After all, we all have friends, family and partners who enrich our day-to-day lives and exhibit qualities that make us love them. Sometimes they love us back. These bonds of affection are beautiful and essential.
But it doesn’t automatically make us special.
I am saying all of this because we are living in a culture which makes us feel special without having really done anything to deserve it. In the modern age, the Western Hemisphere is a place where we are all made to feel as if we can do anything we want and be anyone we choose. Follow your dreams and you can make it happen! One lucky soul can stand in front of a panel of judges, sing their heart out and fame and fortune are theirs for the taking.
Reality TV turns people into superstars purely because they can bake a cake. The most uninformed commentator can declare their honestly-held beliefs on social media and be met with a thousand mouse clicks of validation as peers and complete strangers respond en masse. The term ‘selfie’ was named by Oxford Dictionaries as the word of 2013. We now have a wealth of labels and external identities at our disposal in order to show off our unique and interesting lifestyles. The world is full of special snowflakes who practice veganism and shop vintage and get tattooed while broadcasting their interesting sexual proclivities to the world. Kim Kardashian, a woman who does not appear to possess one viable skill or any identifiable talent, is one of the most rich and famous people on the planet.
All this would be great if it was making for a better, happier world. But it isn’t. To quote the great Louis CK: “Everything is amazing and no-one is happy.”
The biggest problem with this culture is that it is breeding the worst qualities in us as a species. One of these is entitlement. People are starting to demand special treatment without having done anything to deserve it. We bemoan the lack of wi-fi in public places. People bleat online when their died hair and tattoos get disapproving looks from commuters. We think that just because we have a Twitter account and an opinion, we have a valid, necessary voice to add to the debate, and can in turn either shout down or bully any dissenters out there. Furious arguments take place on Twitter and Facebook as the safe distance of sitting behind a keyboard grants people licence to treat each like total horseshit, all because someone doesn’t agree with them.
But the worst aspect of all of this is that we are made to feel that happiness is something that life owes us, regardless of any effort on our part. “I deserve to be happy because I’m special.” But what work are we doing on ourselves to actually make ourselves happy? What are we actually achieving? As a society, there seems to be a decreasing emphasis on things like hard work, responsibility and common sense.
Instead, it’s all about quick fixes. People ravage their bodies with fad yo-yo diets in lieu of sustained healthy eating and regular exercise. They gobble up anti-depressants as a means of skipping the time and effort it takes to make oneself happy from the ground up. There is now an obsessive compulsion to share every aspect of our lives online; our nights out and holidays and taste in music and relationships, so that others can validate us. Any witty or interesting thoughts we have must be broadcast via Twitter immediately, otherwise they may not exist. Why do we need all this approval? Are we really that insecure? Will we not feel special an more if we stop?
The potential for being special or exceptional is there in all of us, but it may take years of work to bring it out, and it means having to confront a concept that modern society is perpetually terrified and intolerant of; failure. It takes more than one try to get something right.
Love and patience can take extraordinary effort. We can be so quick to walk away from something if it doesn’t yield benefits straight away, because we think we’re all so special we deserve it instantly. But we’re not. And we don’t.
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