You’re Not Special
Philosophy is at its most fun (and not to mention useful) when we take the accepted way of looking at something and do the complete opposite with it. It is like flipping a painting upside down. We take away a new perspective we did not have before. It might be a waste of time and energy, but we should be open to the possibility it won’t be.
First things should be dealt with first. In the beginning is the belief we are special (thanks mum). Other people will die, but not us; they’ll live average lives, but we’re destined for something greater; they think they’re smart, but only we know what’s really going on.
To the extent we buy into this illusion, we become unwitting perpetrators of self-loathing. You’re only fluent in three languages? You only play two instruments? You only own one house? If you’re truly special, then you must reach higher, go further, and push harder than everyone else. It creates a lot of pressure. In the process, feeling special transforms from a golden fleece wrapped around our shoulders into a lead stone hanging around our neck.
Hans Thoma, Loneliness, 1896
Flipping the painting, we see that being special isn’t always a blessing, and can actually be a curse. Perhaps, inversely, the normality we have come to see as a curse, might actually be a blessing.
Thinking about ourselves as normal people is like dropping the stone from our neck. We feel lighter (even en-light-ened). There’s no need to punish ourselves for failing to master a language in two months, learning it within 5 years is just fine – that’s the normal period of time to do so. There’s no need to feel guilty that we can’t do a muscle-up after practising for a few months – 99% of people can’t do one even if they tried. There’s no need to get upset that you’re working a regular job earning a basic income – only 1% of people get to be the top 1%.
When seen from this new perspective, our life is no longer a miserable string of failures, but a collection of attempts, some quite successful, of doing better than normal. In the end, it is not you that failed the standards, it is the standards which failed you. They were never true to begin with. You’re normal. Perfectly normal. Wonderfully normal.
If we can practise looking at ourselves in this way, we might be able to loosen the vice-like grip our addiction to specialness has on us, and learn to look at our regularities, boring-bits, and average qualities with slightly more accepting and forgiving eyes.