Saturday, January 05, 2013

'Isn't that special...' Not.

Here's an interesting and offbeat addition to the growing mountain of cynical/self-pitying feedback from a generation raised on what New York Observer writer Alexandra Wolf has dubbed TMPR, for "too much positive reinforcement." Like so many of his contemporaries, the writer here, Matthew Duhamel, has hit a wall...a wall that refused to yield to the empowered/entitled self-image his parents and others tried so hard to implant in him. You'll note that Duhamel now seems to feel pretty helpless, as per the subtitle of someone's book, wink.

Submitted by reader Mike Cane, to whom we are grateful. Be sure to read the comments following the piece, too.


Lucy Montrose said...

This is the response I tried to post to that article (but alas, was stymied by a login loop):

I was disabused of my own specialness when I went away to college, too-- and I'm still struggling with occasional feelings of despair today.

But what helped to clarify my thinking was asking myself, WHY do I need to be special? And I concluded: its because being a special person allows me to DO great things, and create works of great beauty. In the workplace, there's such veneration of career "stars" that we all think we won't be allowed to accomplish great deals unless we first become special. This goes on in youth sports, too-- most players who are merely good or average end up sitting on the bench, and don't get the practice that would make them better players.

It has long dismayed me that a lot of the things I love to do, take more time and effort than I ever imagined. Now, not giving up on yourself is a big part of the battle. But you also have to battle bosses, partners, friends and authority figures who are equally happy to give up on you, if your effort to polish your skills doesn't bear fruit quickly enough. We talk a good game about "the journey being the reward", but our walk doesn't match the talk-- we quite clearly reserve recognition for those who *have already* achieved their goals. And so, until we change our behavior to *actually* demonstrate we value effort and until "good enough" is, indeedn, good enough; we will feel pressure to become "special" at all costs.

But always remember the important takeaway: the reason to be special is to DO special things.

That's the whole problem: we all believe that effort is for the not-talented-enough. That if we have to work hard, that means we're really not smart, not stars, not the best fit for the job. We talk a great game about hard work, but our actions scream, "Only those who have already reached their goals need apply." Case in point, this article in Bnet. Is she saying that no "works in progress", those who may be fat but getting fitter, need apply? That only those who have already achieved skinniness are worthy of leadership roles? How is that at all realistic from a human standpoint?

Steve Salerno said...

Lucy, thank you for your comment, which I believe is your first here.

Two-thirds of the way through your remarks I still wasn't sure whether or not you were being ironic. The whole idea of declaring one's self special in advance of doing anything special strikes me as absurd. But of course, that's whole premise of the self-esteem movement: that the belief precedes the attainment.

RevRon's Rants said...

In my experience and studies, the truly "great things" throughout history have been accomplished by people for whom a self-image of "special-ness" was unnecessary, and for whom such a need did not even enter their consciousness. The value of any act is greatest when the person performing it can consciously disappear into the act itself, with no agenda and no expectations.

This goal is fundamental to all the major ideologies and religions, the most commonly taught (in the West, anyway) being the Golden Rule. We do unto others as we would have them do unto us not because of what it says to or about us, or in hope of an equivalent response, but simply because it is the Right Action. Agendas can be frustrated, and invoices can go unpaid, but acting well is its own goal and its own compensation. The satisfaction we feel when we engage in right action is not dependent upon any subsequent actions or events; it stands on its own merits. The ultimate "payoff" is not to convince ourselves that we are somehow special or even to BE special. Only to act well. And it seems that in our efforts to APPEAR to be acting well (and thus, able to convince ourselves and others that we're "special"), we diminish the acts themselves.

Annie said...

I am an Australian, and I recently viewed a very small ten minute interview on our national broadcaster (during the day so not very large audience) about a school teacher who went on a trip to China and saw the plight of impoverished chinese peasants in remote mountain villages.

She set up a school for about a dozen little girls. She went about contacting the Aus government and the Chinese government who were cautious at first but then supportive. She also publicised her efforts and asked for donations through her own school. She had an overwhelming response. So much so that these 12 little chinese girls now have a very comfortable classroom with clothes, toys, food and a kitchen to cook in. This young woman has done so well she is looking to begin another school for a hundred children nearby.

If that isn't 'special' I don't know what is. And how did she start this incredible journey, through compassion, empathy, practical help and a lot of support from her friends.

It brought tears to my eyes to see how one woman can do so much for others, even complete strangers. Yet her work is barely recognised by the world outside.

This is genuinely worth praise and honour and respect, and she certainly has mine.

Now to get my lazy backside off the sofa and doing something 'special'....

Steve Salerno said...

Thank you, Annie. So true.