All Opinions Wrong But Useful · Bibliography

@rixx@chaos.social · @rixxtr

You are not special

2020-04-24

I don’t know about you, but … oh no, wait. I do know about you: you’re a mess of inconsistencies and worries and opinions and fear and all kinds of other emotions. Welcome to humanity. Take your place among the other 7.8 billion ridiculous primates. One cross each.

When I was a kid, I used to wonder if I could be the best in something, and consequently wondered how world-wide and local leaderboards of different skills would look like. How do you hack yourself to the top? By properly scoping the skill or the group, of course: I knew I was not the fastest runner, for instance, and I wasn’t the fastest at my school, either, but maybe I was the fastest within my friend group. Similarly, I held the proud title of being the second-best person in cleaning my room. You can see the same idea when you visit a small village church, which will proudly declare that it is the largest type of this specific church built in this specific region in the years from 1550–1600.

The desire to be set apart just a little, to be appreciated, to be different, is fairly universal. At the same time, statistically speaking, the post title holds true: Averaged across all imaginable characteristics, you’re veeeery probably not special. You’ll be an outlier in some regards, but not in most. A stats nerd would insert a meta level here, but you get the idea.¹

While it’s rude to make remarks like this, it’s a pretty good thing that you’re not special. Apart from the fact that it’s neat that we all need the same oxygen and gravity, we also share most experiences with somebody out there. You can be comparatively sure that somebody shares your weird aches and flash insights and shower thoughts. Places like /r/DoesAnybodyElse provide excellent illustration of the point.

It also means that somebody else has had your problem, or one very very close to it. This means you can learn from their experience, by observing results (or even by asking them). It also helps with feeling terrible in the face of perceived catastrophe.

Yes, you just copied your humorous insult into the wrong chat window and sent it to the important customer, AND this has happened to many people before you. I’ve been reading the letters of Bismarck, and in one of the early ones he details how he forgot to visit somebody, then put it off because he was mildly ashamed, until it got to a point where any visit seemed impossible. Sure, Bismarck is a relatively recent example, but you can find oddly familiar patterns in ancient works, too. I discovered this first when I was reading in the bible (as you do), where everything seemed weird and ancient. And then there was Isaiah 5:11:

Woe to those who rise early in the morning to run after their drinks, who stay up late at night till they are inflamed with wine.

And, yeah, sure, the sad old people in the pub at the corner did that all the time. Highly relatable content. Not being alone, not being the first – it’s a humbling realisation, but also a reassuring one. This alone would be worth a post – but there’s one direct consequence of not being special that I’d like to point out:

The rules apply to you, too.

Which rules, you ask? Well, all of them. All the rules that you accept to be broadly true or good or useful hold for you as well as others. This is (at least for me) a tremendously useful way to think about insecurities and restrictions I place on myself. Every sentence that starts with “Well, I wouldn’t expect this of others, but …” needs to be countered with it. For example, I find asking questions hard to do, and part of that is that I don’t want to seem silly or stupid. But I think it’s wrong to look down on people who ask questions², and since I’m not that special, the rules must apply to me, too.

This is also a nice way to judo yourself into self-care. People in general should {treat themselves, be nice to themselves, explore their desires, satisfy their needs}, but you, in your special way, are exempt and can continue to ignore your needs? I really don’t think so.

So keep in mind the words of Tim Minchin³, and rock on:

I don't think you're special
I mean, I think you're special
But you fall within a bell curve

¹ Of course, you are special in that you are the only one of you, and I’ll write about the importance of that in a future refutation.

² That show a minimum of effort.

³ Tim Minchin, If I Didn’t Have You