It is not uncommon to hear the phrase, “You are special, just like everyone else,” in graduation ceremonies when encouraging children to not worry about what other people think about them. I wrote on Monday how that line of thinking needs more nuance, but we also need to consider this idea of being special that is consistently promoted to the young people.
First, the obvious truth is that every person is special. We are all created in the image of God in a unique way. We are loved individually by the creator of the universe. That is true and undeniable.
Second, it is also true that we are all special to those who are closest to us. I was actually thinking the other day how it is kind of interesting that we bond with our families. We are more directly genetically connected, but we are largely genetically connected to the human race at large. And, when you consider the familial bonds that developed between people who are not genetically related such as a husband and wife or adopted children, it is incredibly interesting that we have particularly close ties to certain members of the human race but not others. That tells me again that there is a type of love present in this situation.
We of course affirm the universal human dignity of all people and the natural rights of every man and woman. That goes without saying. However, I have to be honest with you that a random 37-year-old woman in Stockholm is not particularly special to me. This doesn’t mean I don’t care about her well-being or wish any harm on her. I don’t have that relationship with her to cause me to have any type of special feelings towards her. It is not that she's lacking in inherent value, but there is nothing about her that makes her receive anything beyond my love for humanity in general. I don't have additional reasons for loving her that I would have for people who are truly special to me.
To bring this to our children then, when they are embedded with the mindset that they are special and ought to be treated like that all the time, we have to remember this reality that special people are special because of the love we have for them and the proximity of the relationship. By virtue of being special, people fill a role in our lives that other people do not. That love makes them special to us.
We therefore cannot expect the entire world to treat us as some kind of special exception to every rule. This may sound cold, but it is the truth. Unless there is a prior relationship which causes us to want to treat someone else in a special way, we are probably not going to treat that person any different than anyone else.
Again, this is not to say that we don’t love everyone because, specifically as Christians, we are called to love our neighbor. However, in a world that wants to believe everyone is special, we cannot forget the fact that being special to someone means that you have a relationship with that person. There is something there to build upon. Therefore, if you had nothing to build upon, there really is no reason to get all bent out of shape when people fail to treat you in the special, potentially entitled, way that you want to be treated. It is not surprising that people don’t.