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.

Terminal Uniqueness

To addicts in recovery, we are made aware that the real disease of addiction is called “Terminal Uniqueness,” that age-old quest to prove myself better, worse, or otherwise different than you. It is entirely ego-driven, and it effects people in ways that are both observable to others and deeply-known by the sufferers. Its most damaging symptom is that it results in our separating from others and isolating, because it validates the internal belief that I am somehow unique. The word itself means alone in whichever class we pick, and that is what leads to all sorts of behavior that undermines our self-worth.

I’ve written about this before, but I need to take a slightly different tact today.

I can get away with presenting this as an illness inclined towards addicts, but the truth is it’s rampant in our culture, especially today when we have so much leverage in determining our own brands. Yup, that’s what we call crafting a sellable self for others to consume.

You can find it in discussions of race or poverty today. It’s all over political arguments. You can certainly find it on social media everywhere. You can find it on “Only Fans” (BTW, parents, do you know if your son or daughter has an Only Fans page?) among those who take their clothes off and do nasty things to make a buck while in isolation. Take a look at the patrons, for example, of Walmart, where a particular form of uniqueness can be found in the way people dress. Pick just about any issue, and you’ll find it stuffed with the masks and fallacious imagery of those who offer support or disagreement. Wealthy people have their own ways of standing out, but it depends on your point-of-view.

Our culture is flooded with the unspoken cry, “Dig me,” and its institutions are designed to take advantage of the disease.

  • Finance: You need money to reach your objective. We can help.
  • Marriage: You need the right “partner” to be all you can be. We can help.
  • Medicine: You need your health for your unique journey. We can help.
  • Mental Health: You need to determine how far you can go with this. We can help.
  • Religion: You need us to make sure you have a right relationship with God. You want God’s blessing, right? We can help.
  • The Law: You need to make sure you don’t cross the wrong lines in your effort to be YOU. We can help.
  • Education: We can put you on the right path for your unique objective.

These groups represent the status quo in Western life, the aristocrats, the one percent. We are the hamsters on their wheels. And so we plot and plan. We try things on to see how they fit. We organize ourselves around our self-image and fine tune it before heading out to make a name for ourselves. I mean, it’s the American way, right?

So it has always been and will always be, unless there is a righteous rebellion.

We’ve gotten so far downstream in this effort today that we’re no longer able to even consider how alike we really are.

“But my husband…”
“But my upbringing…”
“But my abuse…”
“But my bad luck…”
“But my illness(es)…”
“But my injury…”
“But my situation…”

Can we please stop our complaining?

We find excuses everywhere to deny our nature as garden-variety human beings. It seems there’s just no future in being just one in the crowd. Who wants to be “normal?”

Somewhere inside all the masks and afflictions, we are all the same.

My old shrink, Doctor Gagrat, told me once:

“Terry, people are like snowflakes. All different but all still snowflakes. Put some heat to them, and they melt. If I stab you with an ice pick, you’ll bleed, and your blood will be red. If I stab your psyche with a weapon, you also bleed.”

This is without a doubt a true statement, and my point today is that if we were each simply seeking our authentic selves, we’d be much better off as a species within the cosmos. Instead of seeking to stand out, we would be able to give our attention to being better human beings.

But who wants to be a better human? What does that do for ME?

  • Life is free to do our heavy lifting for us.
  • It allows us be imperfect, just like everybody else.
  • It buys us freedom.
  • It buys us peace and all of the spiritual fruit we believe is tied to the goals of our struggle.
  • It allows for unconditional love.
  • We cease striving for “our” place within the whole, for our place is already set.
  • Life gets remarkably easy to live, for we’re in sync with it instead of fighting against it.
  • Things go wrong, of course, but we’re able to place them in the proper perspective.

The real idiocy of this disease is that it’s so incredibly useless. It functions as a yoke attaching us to a life of constant struggle. You wonder why people can’t sleep? The subconscious mind doesn’t shut down when attempting to sleep, because it’s way too active trying to plan the next steps in the fantasy. If we could just all say “Enough!”

This ought to be the top priority of all religions and the most preached sermon across the globe. Only then will we learn the truth about what humanity is doing on this planet and the path for reaching our universal purpose.

We simply don’t have the power to sustain such artificiality.