You’re Special?

Not that any of the other entries in this series have been especially profound, but today’s topic struck me as extremely obvious. But having said that, it didn’t really dawn upon me for the first 30+ years of my life, so maybe reading about it might prove useful for some of you. That’s the hope anyway.

I think almost all kids, at least for a portion of their childhood, see themselves as being special. We’re all snowflakes. It’s easy to scoff at for me as an adult, but on balance I think it’s way better that kids’ world views slant this way. Is it inherent in them, or do we somehow train them this way? Like almost everything else complicated, probably some of both. The kid, especially when it’s young, is going to be a focal point in many situations. Any adult will appreciate the limitations a child has in caring for themself, and of course most sane adults will give a child the benefit of the doubt and go above and beyond to cater to their calls, requests, etc. This attention certainly isn’t lost on the child. They quickly learn a range of actions that usually will result in a response from their caregivers. The most of obvious being emotion. Later on the actions can get a lot more sophisticated, but they are aimed at generating a response. And given the adults bias towards caring for the child, the child becomes conditioned. They learn what types of buttons to press. For the first few years of a child’s life, they are the true center of the family universe. I’m not sure if I’m going too far out on a limb here, but when they are introduced to extended family, they are proudly introduced and as a result are showered with additional attention. Maybe this reinforces the ideas that are already starting to percolate in the youngster’s mind? I’m a little out of my depth here, that might be completely off-base. Longtime readers might be asking “what’s new?” at this point. Smart-alecks. Anyway, back to it. The child remains at the center until they start to have regular interactions with their pier group I imagine. When they go into a classroom environment where the attention of the adult is shared between the group. So I’m thinking this happens somewhere between ages 3-5 for most kids? Maybe it happens earlier for toddlers that go into daycare programs, but I don’t want to speculate on what’s going on in the minds of kids that young. But I have my suspicions.

Even though the child can longer command full control of the adults around them at all times, they still have a lot of power. When they are back in their family environment, they retake pole position. And even in a group or classroom setting, their whims are catered to. That’s not to say that they are catered to the extent that many would like – and you do see a lot of different types of emotional response when you see a child realizing it. Another factor working in the favor of keeping their “me-centered” view of the universe, or put another way, the “world revolves around me” view of the universe is simple physiology. I have no idea if I selected the right branch of science, but can we just go with it? The child has not developed, from a neural perspective, the ability to see much further beyond themselves. And again this makes a lot of sense, at least in the story I’ve convinced myself of, from the standpoint of survival and skill development being most important for someone at that young an age. So the kid is all about itself, preserving it’s spot, and maintaining it’s ability to manipulate the actions of people who can do things it can’t (yet). All so it can live to the point where it can do things for itself. Fair enough.

I want to skip ahead a little bit. I wonder when I child really starts to realize that they are not the center of it all. I am sure this is going to vary pretty wildly baed on life experiences. And I should note that I am describing the development of a child in near perfect circumstances. Parents and extended family doling out tons of attention and affection, with access to supportive and well-monitored classroom environments. I know that not even close to everyone is this lucky. But for our fictitious, very lucky youngster, at some point they become more aware of the world around them. They have friends, they learn about the larger world around them, they experience disappointments, and they learn how to persevere. But I’m still not sure if this is when they realize that they aren’t that unique. They might start to see the pieces of it coming together – namely just how big the world is, and how little of it they see, but I’m not sure if the penny has really dropped yet.

More life, more experiences, good and bad. More exposure to the larger world (for the lucky ones), more understanding of the larger universe. Surely this starts to make a person think. I’m not sure if it’s still used today like it was in the past, or if at a minimum it has been adjusted for inflation, but do people still say “you’re one in a million”? That really is a great compliment, even though it would imply that there are still 1000 people or so just like you? Maybe once the child has the ability to do division it’s only a matter of time before they realize that they aren’t unique.

I’m starting to wonder why I care? So what? Clearly I was in a bad mood when I wrote up these prompts, but who cares if you’re not unique? Even if you’re more like “one in one hundred” not that special at all really. Do your doppelgängers have any effect on what you’re trying to do with your life? Are you running into them constantly, triggering mild existential crises? I guess it really depends on your environment. I can relate to this from my own experience. Gather around children! When I was growing up, I felt like my situation was unique because we were one of the only families with my ethnic background in town. Let’s say we were less than 2% of the population. Compound that with the efforts I put towards being a real individual, and maybe I would guess I got the percentage down to under 0.5%? That’s a wild guess. But as I moved on through life, into larger, more diverse environments, I kept seeing more and more people like me. At college first, and then when I moved to San Francisco. In these circles there were tons of people just like me. And then the internet, and social media, and it was all over. I’m not unique at all, what a realization! And it definitely through me off, especially the early interactions. I always felt uncomfortable around people who were just like me for some reason which I can’t quite explain. Like I had to compete against them since there was only room for one of us! This reaction is probably influenced quite a bit by my experience as a minority at large. But did it really affect me? I don’t think so after I got over the initial shock of it? Shock is probably too strong a word, but it destabilized me a little.

So who cares if you’re not unique. Maybe the essay should have been about realizing that you’re not the center of the universe? More about getting your ego under control. That definitely is something that is still a work in progress speaking for myself. And it’s easy to say you realize that, obviously, but much harder to act that way in practice. Another potentially better topic could be realizing you’re not going to be the best at everything. This was and still is startling, even though it shouldn’t be for someone at my age. No matter how good you are at something, it’s unlikely that you’re going to be the best at it. That’s tough to take. And it’s strange for me at least to realize that you can get to pretty good at almost anything pretty easily, simply due to the fact most other people on earth aren’t doing what you are, but to get to the very top you need a lifetime of work and you still won’t get there. Maybe this realization would make you appreciate getting up to 95% for example, or good enough in general. But that would kind of be a defeatist attitude. I don’t know if for that example at least, it would be better not to know. You do the work in pursuit of your goal, no matter how unlikely actually achieving the result is. That doesn’t sound very good either. Maybe it only works if you really do enjoy the process, the journey, and take satisfaction in the use of your time in pursuit of the goal. Look back and see how far you’ve come. I am not sure how I managed to get that cliche in here too.

Ok, to summarize then. Nobody’s unique. I think people realize this sometime around the time they start to appreciate how big the world is. Which implies that a certain amount of people will never realize it, but even then. And realizing your not unique? Shouldn’t really bother you – it won’t affect your ability to live a perfectly nice, productive life unless you allow it to derail you. And realizing you’re not going to be the best at everything you try? That one is hard to accept and I’m not sure if you should be actively communicating that out, especially to impressionable youth. I would prefer to reserve judgment there. I’ll think about it. And the last one, realizing that the world isn’t revolving around you, a critical skill. But when should someone learn it? I would say single digit years is probably too early because it would be tough to conceptualize. But what about high school?

Ok, that’s about all I’ve got on this topic. Hopefully it got your minds going a little. I don’t know what it did for me. I feel like it was a questionable prompt.

Ok, I’ll speak with you all again tomorrow. 50 Minutes. 1815 Words.

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