Back in elementary school, teachers emphasized our uniqueness from a very early age.

I remember one activity that we did somewhere around Christmastime. We were directed to cut some holes into folded pieces of white paper however we pleased. When we unfolded them, we discovered that we had produced snowflakes, and everyone’s snowflake was different.

What wonderful symbolism. The snowflakes were meant to represent us: each special, and different, and unique. They also served as cheap Christmas decorations which our parents would stealthily discard three weeks later.

There were lots of activities like this, all designed to tell us how special all of us were.

Two decades later, I’m not sure that this is what kids should be taught in school. In fact, I think that teaching them the opposite would be a better way to approach things. Teach kids that they’re not special, or unique, but rather that they’re very much the same as everyone else.

Perhaps it’s a less positive message to convey to young children, but I think it’s also closer to the truth. We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike, aren’t we?

Everything that follows is based on the premise that our similarities far outweigh our differences. If you don’t subscribe to that belief, then the rest of this entry is, unfortunately, wasted on you.

The problem is that if you tell kids that they’re special often enough, they’ll start to believe it. That’s dangerous because it’s a very, very short hop from “special” to “superior”. The result is that you end up with a group of teenagers who think that they’re better than everyone else in one way or another. Some people think they’re cooler. Some people think they’re smarter. Some people think they’re just better human beings.

That last one was my problem. I knew I wasn’t cooler than anyone, and I never considered my intelligence to be something that made me better than anyone. But I absolutely held my morality over people. Go back and look at old blog entries and the message I’m sending out is very clear: “I am a very good person, so let me tell you how to be a very good person too.”

There are two problems with that:

  1. I believed that I was morally superior to everyone else even though I was not.
  2. I held everyone else to a higher moral standard, even though I myself did not meet that standard.

I think I’ve improved on this, but I do still slip up occasionally. Thinking that I’m somehow better than everyone else is a mistake – I am not. Placing someone up on a pedestal and thinking that they might be better than everyone else is also a mistake, and it’s probably the biggest reason why I’ve been disappointed by people so many times over the years. If I’d expected less – if my expectations were more reasonable, in other words – perhaps I’d not have lost so many friends over the years.

At the end of the day, I think Syndrome had it right: when everyone’s super – when everyone is special, when everyone is unique – no one is. Granted, Syndrome says it with a maniacal laugh and more than a touch of bitterness, but that doesn’t make it any less valid. Believing otherwise just leads to conflict.

Maybe I’ll call him up and see if he’d be interested in a career change. There may be a position in early childhood education with his name on – oh wait.

 

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