What Makes Us Think We’re So Special?

Snowflakes and avalanches | Science News for Students

The postmodern internet has given us many things, but nothing looms larger than the ability each of us has today to determine the persona with which we wish to represent ourselves online. We present ourselves in the best possible light, and that’s fine. The postmodern mantra of “I participate, therefore I understand” is something we now all have, and we’re really just beginning to learn what that means. There is simply no end to the possibilities for connected human beings. It’s the closest tool ever created that can match the threat that the Tower of Babel once posed, under the watchful eyes of God.

Today, what we say about our uniqueness is what matters, not what anybody else might think or say. We are the author of our own identity, which means nobody can challenge us, not really. Even a simple observation by a friend can be repudiated fairly in the name of one’s agency.

We are indeed entitled to create and manage our own agency online or IRL — and paying attention to this can reap great benefits. However, we’re not permitted to alter natural laws governing human behavior in the process. One can state all they wish, for example, that they “never get cold,” when in truth everybody gets cold. We shiver in the cold and when we have a fever, because we’re human. We make mistakes. We can’t help it, for that’s a part of being human, too. We resist governors that prevent the kind of license we seek to justify our behavior. We are in it for ourselves, when left to our own devices. “No, I’m not,” you say, but you really can’t help it. Survival is the most base instinct of all, and we can’t help but go there.

In fact, the farther we reach into this uniqueness in creating ourselves for distribution, the greater the likelihood we’ll paint ourselves into an unsalvageable corner sooner or later. Again, we can deny our humanity, but we will be responsible for so doing. This can be life or death stuff, for who doesn’t want to feel special?

Therefore, one of the greatest ills of our society in the postmodern era is the idea that we each are completely unique, and it’s getting worse.

In recovery, we call this concept “terminal uniqueness,” but it applies to all human beings, not just those who’ve come to realize they have a problem, one that’s compounded by presenting ourselves to ourselves as a unique entity within the species. Think about it for a moment. The word “unique” means “one of a kind.” Are you really one of a kind? I think not, and therein lies the difficulty. Another word for unique is alone. Think about that one for a minute. Utterly alone.

Our science will examine other animals to study their reactions to all sorts of stimuli, and those results are based on the reality that all mice are the same. Research subjects, regardless of their species, are always grouped accordingly, because a monkey is a monkey, and a squirrel is a squirrel. How is it that we can conclude that somehow the human animal is not subject to natural laws and therefore must be studied as complex individuals?

The real problem with this is that we feel free to skip over those commonalities that make us all the same, because we’d rather stand out by arguing how different we are. As my old psychiatrist Dinshaw Gagrat taught me long ago, “People are like snowflakes, Terry. All different but all still snowflakes.” So, this business of exploring our humanity might be far more important than we think.

In his marvelous series of books, Edward Bear (Marty Slattery) speaks to and for all of us when he makes the observations that humans are driven by certain common needs and fears. His Seven Deadly Needs are the Need to Know, Need to Be Right, Need to Get Even, Need to Look Good, Need to Judge, Need to Keep Score, and the Need to Control. This allows him to make general comments about human behavior, because we all — to one extent or another — have the same deadly needs. He also writes of our Seven Deadly Fears. They are Fear of Intimacy, Fear of the Unknown, Fear of Change, Fear of Rejection/Abandonment, Fear of Conflict/Anger/Confrontation, Fear of Becoming a Burden, and Fear of Dying. The reader can see what kind of unity is possible if we’d but agree that these are descriptive of the nature of being human. It’s also possible now to see what common good can be achieved with such a general understanding.

But what about the person who insists they have no fear of becoming a burden? Are we to argue with such? It may be useless, but it shouldn’t alter our overall perspective. Of course, there are exceptions, but we’ve built an entire culture on those exceptions and shunned the need to speak about ourselves as members of the human race. You want a total cultural makeover? Let’s begin here.

Religion is perhaps the greatest offender here, because religion offers a different spin on the nature of our beings. Trusting in God, for examples, means we “shouldn’t” have any of those fears, for God is our provider. He’s also the Meeter of our every need, so we don’t really need to be anxious about anything, nor are those deadly needs really all that deadly to us. We don’t fear death, because we know where we’re going. Etc. Etc. Right?

Wrong!

Nothing about our basic nature changes through religious experiences or “faith”. The Christian “born again” experience, for example, doesn’t actually change the nature of the human vessel. That would be impossible, and that’s not what it means anyway. There’s nothing wrong with positive thinking, positive confession, or any motivational tools that help people better live their lives. But, to build one’s entire life around such is to miss the real value of life, which is love, strength, courage, hopefulness, self-control, imagination, self-awareness, joy, justice, and mercy, Life rejects self-centeredness, which is the entire point.

If this were not true, then why is there so much manipulation of others built around religion’s very core? Why is it that the few can create and manage a narrative that allows people to believe that they are somehow special, and therefore, entitled to their special space within the culture? The few will always exploit human nature in maintaining their place at the top. Envy is never satisfied. Wealth produces discontent, because wealth has the resources to act on that discontent. The more discontent is addressed, the greater it grows. Rich people, it seems, are just as human as the rest of us.

We are all — every one of us — simply garden-variety human beings. Time and chance determine under-the-sun circumstances, which is why the comforts we deem as our “rights” are really just happenstance based on our environment and circumstances. There is truly no one “special” and yet, we all are special.

Like snowflakes. All different, yet all the same.

The Power to Say “No”

Disclaimer: Entire books have been written on this topic, so my handling of it may seem shallow to some. Sorry, but I don’t feel I’m supposed to write such a project, but I do think it’s worth discussing here.

The most important aspect of human life is consciousness and, especially, the mind. The human mind is the command and control mechanism for all of the systems, processes, and behaviors that make us human. Science doesn’t go here, because it requires grappling with human nature and things that cannot be measured in the scientific way. All we have is anecdotal evidence, and no scientist worth her credentials would be so foolish as to give their stamp of approval to such. Even the science of the mind — also known as psychology or psychiatry — admits as much, and this is across the widest possible slice of the à la carte menu of mental health treatments.

I recall when Sandra Seich and I put together our company ANSIR (A New Style In Relating), we spoke to a great many psychologists, both clinical and counseling practitioners about our instrument. This spectrum is fascinating, for one relies entirely on science and scientific theories, whereas the other offers a more holistic approach. What we discovered was the counseling psychologists are patient-focused and, therefore, open to all kinds of ideas and options. Clinical psychologists, however, are driven almost entirely by scientific methodology. As several people told us in analyzing our personality test, the more scientific the test, the less useful it becomes in counseling actual people. This is because science demands broad, provable categories to study, while counseling psychologists tend to see each individual patient as unique within the symptoms presented. You can judge for yourselves which is for you.

The point is we don’t “know” much about the human mind, even though countless investigators have tried. For this, we must turn to other practices including religion, pseudoscience, countless non-religious yet spiritual institutions, such as New Age thinkers, and even the anecdotal experiences of professionals within the field. This of course fits nicely within the realm of quackery and deviance, which is another reason science wants nothing to do with it.

Even what can be considered breakthrough schools of thinking receive skeptical responses from those colleagues who stick to their scientific guns in defending against the relentless growth of mental health issues within our culture. While mental health is tricky to navigate — and for whatever the cause — those poor suffering souls I’ve known in my life (self included) all seem to have lost the ability to say “no”. The real mystery is why and, perhaps more importantly, what to do about it.

Knowing that it’s not good for us, why do we sneak that piece of cake just before bedtime? Why do we “just have to” gaze at the beauty of comeliness and covet possession of the same? After awhile on the river of alcohol consumption, why is it that the first thing we think of upon awakening from a spree with a hangover is doing it again? Why do we allow friends to convince us to do things we know we ought not to do? And, why do we get so defensive when observers of our behavior try to help us, and why do we agree with those who say that regardless of the cause (if there is one), modifying behavior is the only process that can help.

We do so, because the alternatives are considered beneath our dignity. Perhaps our problems are not the problem but rather our inability to reject a course of behavior that will eventually lead us to ruin. The Apostle Paul wrote that he was perplexed by his own behavior, in that he would do the things he knew he should not do, and that he would not do the things he knew he should do. “O wretched man that I am,” he wrote. “Who can deliver me from this bond of death?”

Trauma only makes matters worse, for our reactions to trauma seem to set us up for future mental health difficulties, such as anxiety and depression. Why does this effect some and not others, or does trauma have a way of forcing an escape from reality? Is it not all wound around an inability to say no, whether it’s forced or assumed? And, is the cause at all related to the cure? Do we simply just need to say no?

Bob Newhart’s wonderful skit about a psychologist who’s only treatment is the use of the words “stop it” is a marvelous illustration of the foolishness of such thinking. That’s because we think of these problems in terms of ownership, and it defies logic to give up what we have. “My” illness. “My” condition. “My aches and pains. “My” anxiety. “My” relatives. “My” ex. “My” helplessness. “My” upbringing. “My” uniqueness. “My” cancer. “My” fibromyalgia. My” suffering. “My” affliction. “My” thorn in the flesh. “My” depression. And so forth.

No, no, no, no, a thousand times no!

Look, afflictions are real. Diseases are real. We’re not talking about the things of the flesh. However, when we take ownership of such, we’ve entered dangerous territory, for such things do not actually define us. If that were the case, we should all hide our heads in hopelessness. The truth is that these things stand in the way of self-discovery, and that is a spectacular piece of self-deception, one that’s based in our senses under the sun. Healing, therefore, is found — is often found — in the here and in the now, for that is the time and place of life, and life rejects all forms of artificial death, e.g. “poor me”. Like many other things in life, it isn’t the affliction that causes our suffering, per se, but rather our reaction to it.

It’s time to talk about the Biblical devil, for evil is always the outcome of self-deception, whether big or small. If the devil is the “father of all lies,” then his realm must be the human ego, for that is the person within us that often makes the decisions for us — for our protection, of course — especially in times of stress. For purposes of this discussion, let’s define evil as that which draws us from the here and now with its incumbent rejection of any life that exists beyond the sun. This results in all forms of inhuman behavior, including those events that seem to lead our news reports hour-by-hour. Man’s inhumanity towards man ought not to dominate our minds as it relates to life, for this is a profound limitation to our lives under the sun. There’s absolutely nothing “new” about it, for the matter of evil is part and parcel of our nature.

Are babies born innocent and later “learn” selfishness? That’s illogical and provably so, because crying when hungry is most certainly a form of self expression. To argue that a baby learns this through trial and error is to deny the first screams and tears. Yes, she learns that it works, but where does that initial behavior originate? The senses demand to be heard, but at the same time, they send false signals of satisfaction that are never enough. Satisfaction may last for a season, but eventually, it requires more and more and more. As Olivia Newton John asked a musical question, “It’s never enough, never never enough. Why is all that we have simply never enough?”

Absent our ability to actually study the matter, for a very large group of people, the devil is an answer that’s sufficient. Creative attempts to offer a different perspective have come from enormously talented and curious people, especially those who’ve taken the time for individual study of what is commonly known as the human ego. If you are human, you have an ego. He exists to provide answers where none seem possible, and it’s to him that we often turn in times of distress. Thoughtful, intriguing, and soaring books have been written about such things as “ego states,” trauma bonding, and other manifestations of ego study. They deserve our attention, because they come from minds with a lifetime of deep diving when it comes to understanding the human mind. Adam and Eve had egos. It was Eve’s ego that led her to the Tree of Life (“You don’t really think that God would kill you for eating it, do you? I mean, it’s not poison.”). Jesus faced and defeated his own ego in the wilderness. His stomach was growling during the 40-day fast, so the voice of his ego rose to tempt him to turn rocks into bread. It wasn’t a guy in a red suit with horns and a pitchfork. That is the stuff of myths. Hell, we don’t need a devil when we have such an intimate enemy as our own ego.

One of the things that was so different about Jesus is that he recognized the voice of his ego and said a resounding “no”! So, it seems to me that we can do the same. Otherwise, we are most to be pitied, especially for Christians who say they “follow the ways of the Lord.” The first deception of the ego is that he doesn’t exist, and that gives a great multitude an excuse to give up without even trying. After all, their discomfort is greater than any earthly solution, and therefore, we should all just suffer while bearing our own personal thorns in the flesh. Nonsense. Either that, or Jesus was not “the firstborn among many,” and the gate he claimed to represent leads to nowhere.

I fully appreciate the potential for mischief that’s presented with this missive, for we still see through a glass darkly. However, in order to talk back to our egos, we must first learn to recognize its voice, even during times of panic. “You’re going to be abandoned” was a constant, almost unspoken message that I heard throughout my life. Think about that for a minute. It was a marvelous deception foisted on me as the result of an episode of what seemed to me an abandonment in my youth. A mind incapable of separating such a voice from the situation that brought it about is impossible for a 5‑year old, and so it became an essential part of my thinking about myself. I fought it, and I fought it, always to lose and try again.

I learned through AA that what I thought made me unique was all bullshit and that I needed a miracle to overcome it. I got my miracle, and the most obvious evidence is in my sleep. When we give up fighting the deceptions that dominate us, it is an enormous weight lifted from the shoulders of our souls, and the problem of sleeplessness disappears. The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous contains the stories of many people who had found recovery from the addiction that drove their lives for sometimes a very long period of time. These stories are filled with addicts trying to explain their drinking to themselves and others. Example episodes of their perplexity often begin with “I had this thought” or “it came to me that I should.” These triggers were, in fact, the voices of their own egos attempting to rationalize or make an argument for drinking.

So, we know it’s important, but how exactly do we learn to recognize the voice of our ego? It’s actually very simple. Deliberately place a temptation in front of yourself. Don’t do anything but listen. Trust me; it’ll be there, perhaps even in thoughts that are profoundly familiar. Listen anyway. We KNOW what the outcome will likely be, so it’s very important that we hear those thoughts as they pass across the horizon of our minds like so many wild horses.

Redemption is what gives us the power to say no to that which is pretending to be us. You might be amazed at how effective a simple “shut up” can be in a conversation with what you think is yourself. As we say in AA, “My mind is a dangerous place, because I’m not alone in there.”

How true, my friends. How very, very true.