Everyone likes to feel a little special sometimes. When the man arriving at the available cab (at the exact same moment,) gestures to you and backs away; that’s nice. Not just because you’ve had a long day and those shopping bags are not going to carry themselves, but because another person is acknowledging your existence. We go through our days almost unnoticed, unless we are part of that small cluster of very recognizable people, who in fact go through their day trying not to be noticed. We are regularly reminded of our Whoville-like stature when navigating customer service automated phone trees, chain pharmacies, education and health-care bureaucracies and banks. We walk down the street having people barrel into us while they intently type. We are pummeled by double-wide strollers, rolling briefcases and backpacks. We sit in restaurants shielding our food from the (repetitive) hairstyling of the woman seated at the next table. We sit through symphonies, theatre, and religious ceremonies with the blue light of mini-screens shining intermittently.
This phenomenon; of craving to be acknowledged in a self-absorbed world, can turn into quite the carousel of fright. The more we desire to be seen as something more than cellophane, the more we risk turning into them. By them, of course, I mean the gentleman who sits on a jury after lying about his relationships with law enforcement (“hey, that rule doesn’t apply to me!”) I certainly mean the schemers of Ponzi and traders of the inside. Most of us aren’t exactly as bad as all that. But at the root of that behavior is arrogance and entitlement, no? Is that particular brand of motivation all that different from the “letting the dog off the leash” “bullying and tantrums on airplanes” “parking in handicapped spots” behavior? These more minor infractions are probably even worse as they are the most contagious. At some point taking one’s place in line, while others ignore the queue can make one feel a bit of a schmendrick. Slowly, even the most civilized will start to experience “what about me?” syndrome. Before you know it, the victim becomes the perpetrator.
Perhaps we could take a baby step in breaking the cycle, and start with simple semantics. Let us take back the word “special” We use it euphemistically and we use it to the point of meaninglessness. We all want to feel special but none of us is special. (Unique and special are not the same.) We are all entitled to the same respect and civility, and yes, the rules apply to all of us. A person is a person no matter how small. I propose a teeny tiny movement: Instead of talking about someone’s “special day” call it what it really is; It’s Your Birthday! It’s Your Wedding Day! It’s Your Sentence Commutation Day! It is not “their day” anymore than it is anyone else’s day. It’s a bad mindset to indulge, even if it’s only annual. Let today be the day we don’t confuse how someone should be treated with how someone should behave. Let us shower the celebrant with good wishes and love because they are who they are, which is the best thing by far, because you-ness is better than being a star.