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"You are special." This is such an important thing that absolutely must be taught to each and every child in our schools - or at least so the administrators would have you believe. The amusing result is well stated however, in the movie "The Incredibles" - if everybody is special, then nobody is.

I think the error is in the language chosen and the context applied, especially when "special" can be used in the context of the "Special Olympics" for the handicapped - these are indeed "special" individuals in the sense that they work through amazing problems and still manage to excel, and yet the term has acquired a totally different meaning in the vernacular.

From Dictionary.com's American Heritage Dictionary:
spe·cial   (spshl)
adj.
  1. Surpassing what is common or usual; exceptional: a special occasion; a special treat.
  2.  
    1. Distinct among others of a kind: a special type of paint; a special medication for arthritis.
    2. Primary: His special satisfaction comes from volunteer work.
  3. Peculiar to a specific person or thing; particular: my own special chair; the special features of a computer.
  4.  
    1. Having a limited or specific function, application, or scope: a special role in the mission.
    2. Arranged for a particular occasion or purpose: a special visit from her daughter.
  5. Regarded with particular affection and admiration: a special friend.
  6. Additional; extra: a special holiday flight.

n.

  1. Something arranged, issued, or appropriated to a particular service or occasion: rode to work on the commuter special.
  2. A featured attraction, such as a reduced price: a special on salmon.
  3. A single television production that features a specific work, a given topic, or a particular performer.

The thing in common with all these definitions is that "special" implies distinction of a particular type. That we are each distinct individuals goes without saying; but does this generalized "special" really come into the picture in every case (barring the specificity of each of us being special to our loved ones, which is hardly the context used in the schools)?

Personally, as one raised under this "everyone is special" moniker, I feel that we damage children with that phrase. The fact of the matter is that many of us will never find distinction of the kind that we've been taught to believe goes with being "Special." Some will be so convinced of failure that they will cease to try, or never even begin. Perhaps some may say "well I'm 'Special' therefore I am entitled to..." at which point we have entered the dangerous territory our country finds itself in today.

Realistically, we are not, each and every one of us, "special." We are each unique, we are each individual expressions of Sacred Life, we are each very different - but that doesn't necessarily imply "Surpassing what is common or usual." The burden of being special goes back to that lovely truism of superhero fiction: with great power comes great responsibility. Calling children "special" throws them right back into that trap. When they find they don't have great powers, that their distinctions may not lift them above the crowd (the crowd being, of course, a mass of other "special" people), a sense of failure can arise, which can be expressed in so many ways - depression, anger, anxiety, snobbishness, envy - all the social problems we see surrounding us today.

Why did I have to spend 30 years feeling inadequate just to reach this realization? And why did society have to get so overwrought in making sure everyone felt "special," that they missed that being true to the peculiar mix of traits that make up each individual ("to thine own self be true"), is more than enough for any one person to be? When did that accomplishment, and it is an accomplishment to truly accept this and live it, become trivialized to the point where it's not even considered anymore?

Hello. My name is Jaelle, and I am NOT special. I am merely *me.* And that's all I have to be, all I care to be, all I can be, and all I could ever want to be.

-6/6/05

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