It is important to know just how unimportant we all are
Every day, I try to remember how unexceptional I am. To do this, I’ll first make a mental inventory of all of the reasons why I am unexceptional. Examples: like most of the guys I know, I like drinking beer, watching football and eating buffalo chicken of any preparation. I wear Silly Bandz for no other reason except that I think they make me look cool (though they probably don’t). I’m a white guy who wears flannel and comes from a suburb located twenty minutes outside of Boston. I like girls. I like Barack Obama. I like to feel liked. For a million reasons, I am remarkably unremarkable. So what exactly is it that makes me feel exceptional?
Perhaps I am just a narcissist. This explanation might make some sense. I possess a kind of idiot optimism that makes me liable to see not only the best in other people but especially the best in myself. Although this will sound like a joke, most of the time I would rather admire my reflection in the mirror then judge it—not because it is especially worthy of admiration, but because it is my own. There is a fine line between believing in yourself and living in yourself, and it can be hard for me to understand or even acknowledge the difference. But there is a difference.
Maybe Facebook is to blame. Like any social networking site, Facebook survives on the vanity of its users. On Facebook, I can catalog my favorite movies, books, and TV shows; I can write status reports about how I feel or want to feel; I can sort through photos from my collection and select which pictures I will keep or delete. Editing my Facebook profile enables me to edit my personality, history and image until I have become the person I want to be, rather than the person I am. Youtube’s slogan is “Broadcast Yourself.” Twitter allows me to publicize my thoughts—significant or insignificant—to an audience of friends, kind-of-friends and strangers who may or may not be paying attention. Which, of course, is exactly what I’m doing right now. Notwithstanding length, writing an Opinion column is not any different then writing a Tweet. Blaming my feelings of self-worth on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube could just be an easy way for a narcissist to avoid confronting his own narcissism.
It’s possible that my sense of exceptionalism has everything to do with good parenting. From the womb, I’ve been told to respect myself and to not let anybody make me feel unworthy of respect.
“You have a clear head.”
“You have a good heart.”
“You will do the right thing; you will do great things.”
“The sky is the limit, oh the places you’ll go.”
"Yada, yada, yada.”
It’s not hard to fall in love with yourself this way. But there is a second, (and indeed) more crucial aspect of parenting that goes along with all of this self-promotion. The golden rule: treat others as you would like to be treated. I am, to a fault, preoccupied by how I treat and have treated other people. And that renders the whole blame-my-parents argument ineffective.
Are feelings of self-importance a product of privilege? I wouldn’t know. I’ve lived a privileged life, and any pronouncement I make about the ramifications of my own privilege will bear the bias of somebody who has never known anything different. What I do know is that I am white, heterosexual, and come from an upper-middle class suburb, and that I have not known any real tragedy, discrimination, or danger. This is not to say that people of privilege have not encountered any of these difficulties. For all I know, I am the exception, not the rule. What I am trying to say is that through some combination of narcissism, parenting, and privilege, I have cultivated a sense of entitlement that I have not earned, and it scares the hell out of me. What is scarier is that from time to time, I recognize that entitlement in other people here at Colby. I have been incredibly, incredibly fortunate. I’m guessing that some of you—if not most of you—have been fortunate too. And at the risk of moralizing, I would ask you to be aware of the things you have inherited and taken for granted—wealth, ethnicity, whatever—and remember that no matter what, you are unexceptional. Talented? Yes. Confident? Of course. Sexy? Maybe. But exceptional? Not while we still have something to prove. Not while we haven’t created anything for ourselves. Not while we are still young. Recognizing our tendency to feel exceptional is half the battle. The other half? My eighth grade girlfriend said it best:
“Let’s just be friends.”