Has anyone ever complimented you by telling you you're "special?" How did the compliment make you feel? Have you offered the same compliment to others? If so, what did it mean to you?
The first of two dictionary entries for "special" defines it as:
better, greater, or otherwise different from what is usual
In other words, compared to something or someone else, special essentially means "judged as superior."
Indulging notions of superiority (or inferiority, for that matter) is a great way to cut yourself off from your essence, from your affinity for yourself, from your self-worth ... and from your ability to love fully and authentically.
The pros and cons of judgment
It's human nature to categorize, label, rank, and judge. By itself, judgment can be viewed as a neutral undertaking. In fact, its very useful non-judgmental cousin is discernment (a discussion for another time).
In our modern era, however, we've nearly fetishized the process of judging. Opinion is one of our most liquid currencies. So many of our daily transactions depend on systems of organizing (aka, judging) information that we scarcely give any of it a second thought. Think about product reviews, for instance: We rely heavily on the judgment of others to tell us which items, services, companies, and forms of entertainment are worth our while ... and which are skippable.
Time-saving? No doubt. But judgment is a seductive, reductive, reactive shortcut that places - and keeps - us on the defensive. Over time, it starts to short-circuit some of our more time-intensive spiritual processes, such as deeper reflection, heart-centered relating, and compassionate loving.
Special is real sneaky
Special is a zero-sum game: X is special because Y and Z are not. By the definition above, X, Y, and Z can't hold the title simultaneously. So when someone hands us the almighty special baton, our ego may enjoy a rush of adrenaline. But that minor lift often gives way to the major fear of losing status. (What if someone else comes along who is MORE special? Where does that leave me?)
In other words, this definition of special isn't just precarious; it's isolating. It's debilitating. As the saying goes, it's lonely at the top. When we rely on the illusion of specialness, we cut ourselves off from our sisters and brothers. We also cut ourselves off from our own Spirit. Suddenly, we no longer stand in a position of relating to ourselves; we waver in the dicey position of relating and comparing ourselves to everyone else. And just like that, life becomes a competition rather than a journey of self-discovery.
But I'm an individual!
I'd like to draw a distinction here between the act of accepting (or assigning) the special label, and holding space as an individual. Of course, we want to (and we must!) celebrate what makes us unique. I'm not suggesting we disappear into the crowd or lose ourselves to group-think.
We can hone, refine, and nurture our precious selves while we build the collective energy of our treasured communities. We can stand together as one, while bringing our unique voice to the choir.
Special is as special does
And that brings us to the second dictionary definition of special:
a thing, such as an event, product, or broadcast, that is designed or organized for a particular occasion or purpose
Ok, yes. Strictly speaking, this definition belongs to the world of broadcast programming (After-School Special, anyone?). Still, it gets to the heart of a different flavor of special - that is, something created with a specific purpose in mind. Something necessary to a cause.
And that's each of us in a nutshell. We are each necessary to the programming event that is life. None of us is better than another ... but each of us is better suited to the precise task, purpose, function, and energy for which we were created. If we can stay focused on being ourselves rather than being special, we can spend that life in pursuit of fulfilling our beautiful destiny.