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Especially Ordinary

Especially Ordinary

Despite our supposed sophistication, vanity is endemic in modern society. I see no end of examples of people who want to look attractive, be seen as important or have some special world-shattering unique characteristics. It seems to me to be a comforting feature of old age to eschew such meaningless pursuits. But then again maybe I am deluding myself into believing that age itself confers on me some marvellous distinguishing characteristic and you might have cause to tell me I’m a fraud!

In ages past (but still a habit which consumes today’s monarchists) our status seemed to be determined by our bloodlines. We consequently were anointed as belonging to royalty, the upper classes or consigned to the inconsequential. Such a schema would render our claim for specialness to be arbitrarily determined.

It would also of course prove to be an anathema to pop-psychologists who would like us to believe that we can attain whatever status we desire by following their dictates. As I have said many times in the past pop-psychologists tend to be people who on some conventional scale would deem themselves as successful and take the entire credit for that success without conceding the good fortune they might have encountered along the way. I have seen many such people who wrote books which attributed their success to their own sterling qualities. I am eagerly awaiting the day when someone publishes a book titled I am a Self-Made Failure!

In modern society, whilst we have moved away from such arbitrary distinctions as our bloodlines, we now seem to determine each other’s worth by asking the question, “What do you do?” This seems the standard question to ask at a cocktail party. We then proceed to try and impress each other by the grand titles embossed on our business cards. And of course the poor unfortunate who has recently lost his job is made to feel a pariah.

It is a mind-boggling thing to be a celebrity. It is understandable enough that we might want to afford some recognition of specialness to Michael Clarke, captain of the Australian cricket team, or Russell Crowe, famous actor and part owner of a Rugby League side. But we seem to give elevated status also to criminals like Schapelle Corby and people who seem to have no other talent than to know how to engage the media like Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian.

The good Dr Phil persists in telling me that nobody’s special, yet most of the people I come across are striving to prove otherwise! What’s more there is a significant industry investing in propagating such thinking. Social media, for example, seems to be built on the desire of ordinary people to show how extraordinary they are. On Twitter and Facebook our extraordinariness is reinforced by how many followers and “friends” we have. All this despite the fact that half those folk, who are also promoting their extraordinariness by posting pictures of such scintillating things as the cup of coffee they had this morning and what they wore to the party, are little known to us.

But I suppose such activities at least keep us busy. Being busy distracts us from having to consider the bigger philosophical questions of life. It is probably too much to ask that they should join with Martin Heidegger and ponder, “Why are there things that are rather than nothing?” But at least we might give a thought to what makes us happy and see beyond the usual materialistic responses.

And what about those exhibitionists that seem to voluntarily opt to go on to reality TV where to be beset by all sorts of indignities. But hey, they got to appear on TV! Isn’t that a significant enough indicator of specialness?

There is another sad group of people, who having come to the conclusion that they in their own right can’t make a case for their specialness, have decided to attach their specialness to association with others. These are the people who feel special because they belong to a football club that won the premiership. Or they feel special after lining up for hours and count it a blessing that they were able to see Prince Harry. Or having led ordinary lives, they somehow want to feel special through the achievement of their children.

In many respects the good Dr Phil is right – there are no special people. Most of us become what we are through our biological history and our social conditioning, both of which we can take no credit for. If we are fortunate enough to have a privileged genetic inheritance and live in a household and community that affirmed our self-worth, we would more than likely, on conventional criteria, live satisfying and meaningful lives. No doubt if you get to be prime minister, captain the Australian cricket team or win the Nobel Peace Prize it is tempting to think you are somehow special and more than likely want then to take credit for that specialness.

The downside of course when we read the success stories of such people we often believe their propaganda and then feel guilty that we have not achieved such success, believing that if we had only tried hard enough we might have joined their ranks! It is good to have ambitions and to try to maximise our potential as human beings. But unless you believe you chose your parents and your early life circumstances it is obvious that some of the major shaping factors are outside your influence. And in the end the end what’s wrong with being no one particularly special – just like me?

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  1. 3 Comment(s)

  2.   By Suzie on May 17, 2015 | Reply

    The only thing I disagree with Ted is your closing statement….I for one and I’m sure many of your blog followers would agree, consider that you are special!

  3.   By Greg Brown on May 17, 2015 | Reply

    Interesting that a thousand years or so back, bloodlines really were important, or at least that is what common sense would suggest. The warriors with royal blood were genuinely taller, broader, stronger, faster, and more skilled fighters. They did great things on the battlefield and were greatly respected for it by everyone from slaves to the nobility. The big difference between a slave or peasant and a Prince though was nutrition. A diet high in protein and calories from before birth resulted in bigger and stronger adults. Combine this with a life of leisure dedicated to honing the skills of battle plus the very best light weight and strongest weapons and armour and you have effectively got a superman of the day who by coincidence happens to have royal blood. This perception persisted right through to relatively modern times when for example during the Napoleonic wars almost all officers were still from the nobility. The odd soldier would be promoted from the ranks for great valour (usually involving saving the life of a noble) but they were considered out of their depth by both the rank and file and the nobility and generally it was thought more a punishment than a reward to be promoted out of your class. Perceptions of specialness go back a long way, probably into our cave dwelling past so I can’t help wonder if there is an evolutionary reason for it. Does the specialness trait give us a competitive advantage? Is this what makes us rally together in difficult times to support the greater good or the specialness of someone or something? Is it also what makes us try to stand out and achieve great things against all the odds? Perhaps the need to be special is not all bad.

  4.   By Charlie Webster on May 18, 2015 | Reply

    The motto of the little local church primary school I attended in Toowoomba in the 1960’s is “Sola Nobilitas Virtuous” which translates to “Virtue is the only nobility”. This was a bit much for we wee things to get our heads around, so the very wise old headmaster said it meant “I don’t care who or what your father is, it’s what you are that counts”.

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