My first elementary school principal would tell us once a day (and expect us to yell it out with her) that “You are Special.” It was a kind of mantra for her, and I think she believed it too. She wanted us to believe it anyway. But, even when we were in 3rd grade, we knew that being special wasn’t something that everyone could possibly be. Sure, we could all be unique, but special? We reserved the word special for things that couldn’t be done by everyone. We wanted special to be something we could do out on the playground that no one else could. We wanted it to be special for doing more than just existing.
I come back to this now because I think there is a kind of “special” that is being created online that is far more dangerous than the kind we tell our kids. This special refers to anyone that blogs or tweets. It refers to anyone with an opinion on anything, anyone willing to raise their hand and vote. We are starting to attribute the same across-the-board specialness to anyone with a profile.
We have long believed that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but only recently have we been able to read everyone’s opinion ad nauseam. Only in the past few years have the opinions been plastered for us, challenging us to respect all of them.
We trick out our Twitter backgrounds and write tons of biographical information, aiming for being special to anyone who comes across our presence. We seek the comfort of our own spaces online as being the one true harbinger of everything that we are, the sum of our photos, videos, thoughts, beliefs, and connections. This should make us special, right?
And yet, special isn’t a state of being. It is a badge of honor, a judgement pronounced by others. No amount of self-proclamation, promotion, or posturing is going to stand in the place of “special”. It isn’t your information that makes you special, it is how valuable you are to another person. It isn’t your social capital (the connections you amass) that makes you special, its your challenge of those connections.
You are special only if you have made yourself special to others.
You should be indispensable.
Your regrets and biases and flaws are a part of this too. Those elements of our profiles that stay hidden to everyone but those we trust most. That ability to vulnerable and completely open, that is where special is found. Only when we get past our promotional facades of our online profiles will we be special to someone. Our bios won’t do it. Our @ symbol conversation aren’t good enough.
We can’t all be special, at least not to everyone. So, let’s stop trying.