December 2, 2018
I have been struggling with a feeling that I shared with a friend. The feeling was discomfort and it came from the idea that at times I have the thought that I’m ‘better than’ someone else. It was difficult to talk about without wanting to back-track, explain, or justify myself.
It can happen in any number of scenarios: when someone disagrees with me; pokes a hidden, unhealed wound I still carry; doesn’t seem interested in me; or behaves in ways that are unfamiliar or distasteful to me.
Almost outside of my awareness that idea that I’m ‘better than’ surfaces and gets in the way of me being who I am, someone who is not as special as she likes to think. Unique? Yes. ‘Better than’? No.
As my friend and I talked, I felt a sense of relief at laying that out on the table. Feeling ‘special’ or ‘better than’ isn’t a place I inhabit all the time, but just by admitting that I’ve been there, I was able to see more clearly that it’s simply part and parcel of being human.
I think we’ve all been there. And I suspect you feel as uncomfortable about it as I do.
I know I’m there if I have the thought: “Well, I would never do/say/act like they did.” Sure I would, if given the right circumstances.
When I don’t acknowledge those deep, hidden biases and my natural, human desire for specialness, I may unknowingly act out in ways that do harm, to others and to myself. I may belittle you when you’re not there, or when you are present I may argue with you or try to impress you, talk over you, or dismiss your input.
There are very few human emotions I can’t relate to, but this need for ‘specialness’ or feeling ‘better than’ seems harder for me to admit than most discoveries about myself.
As I played with the idea, I started thinking about all the ways that I’m average, or even below average. What does it actually mean to feel ‘special’ or ‘better than’?
I suspect it means that I am taking credit because some things come easier to me than others. It means that I’m ignoring the unique personality I had from birth, the role of genetics, the significance of the random circumstances into which I was born, and life experiences over which I had no control.
Certainly, I have strengths and areas in my life where things come easily. Communication delights me. Words and ideas flow without a great deal of effort. I’m good at seeing patterns and what’s behind things. I am fascinated by the human condition and psyche, so exploring my own inner workings is an adventure rather than a chore or a threat. These things come naturally.
On the other hand, I get lost in neighborhoods that are familiar. Advanced math eludes me completely. I have always found it difficult to remember details. I have tried to learn Spanish three times in formal classes and each time I dropped out through lack of desire or willingness to put in that much effort on something that didn’t come easily to me. I sweat at the thought of being the center of attention on a stage.
When I loosen my hold on the idea that I need to be special, it seems easier to just be my unique self, and to allow you to be your unique self. I become curious about you and your strengths. In fact, I am fascinated by you. The idea that I’m ‘better than’ you becomes a memory of an idea that no longer resonates. The ideas of credit or blame drop away, for myself and for those with whom I interact.
If I don’t need to impress you, or defend my limitations, or hold center-stage, I feel re-energized to explore what interests me, rather than just what I’m good at. I’ve decided that even though Spanish wasn’t my cup of tea, I’ll try to learn the piano. I ordered an inexpensive roll-up keyboard in case my interest in the piano goes the way of my interest in learning Spanish.
What if I enjoy it even though I never get proficient? What if I’m below average, not special enough to brag about it, but I still enjoy it?
The gift of being ‘not special’ or ‘not better than’ you at something, but doing it anyway, is that it will be one more thing that adds vibrancy to my life. And for those things for which I am not suited, I will encourage you to add vibrancy to your life through your enjoyment and/or mastery of them, and I will celebrate with you. Especially if you master Spanish.