I’ve been thinking about making this post since last month. I believe I’m in a position to do so now, so here goes.
I’ve been told by more than one person in my life (though only less than five total) that I think I’m too much of a “special snowflake” with my gender identity and various other things about me. The people in question generally don’t want anyone to be too different from them. I don’t know from what this particular sort of insecurity derives entirely, but it does give one pause.
There are a lot of pagans, I think, who have a little bit of the “special snowflake” syndrome to excess. I’ve met some of them, and deeply love and adore many who fall into that category, while others put me off entirely. Many of them (particularly several women) are Enneagram 4 personalities–who, inevitably, when they learn about the Enneagram and about the type 4 personality, invariably say “Well, I think most 4s are like that, but I’m not! I’m different!” Which is what all 4s say! So, that’s sort of funny…But, in any case, I wonder if this quasi-contrarian nature of a great deal of paganism is at the root of this, and thus people of these particular types gravitate towards it more. (Aidan Kelly had some interesting thoughts on that at Patheos.com recently as well.)
Last month, with all of the secular ceremonialism of high school and college commencements, one commencement address that became particularly famous is that by David McCulloch at Wellesley High School.
Apart from the gender essentialism at the beginning of the speech (even though in popular, heteronormative culture, it is very likely accurate in many ways), there’s a great deal to consider in this speech. The “you’re not special” notion, however, is ultimately not the best part of the speech, though it is important. As I heard this originally, I immediately thought about one of the persons to whom McCulloch refers in his speech: Mister Rogers, who featured in Sannion’s 900th post with the following video.
I grew up on Mister Rogers, and while I also watched (and loved) Sesame Street and other shows, I liked Mister Rogers long past most kids my age stopped watching him. The video above summarizes so much of what I learned and appreciated about him: the importance of curiosity, the permission to think about really anything one wanted to, the importance of imagination, and the fact that the world is a wondrous place and everyone in it is different. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone is special, because if everyone is, no one is (as David McCulloch says)–but, that’s also the point, I think! That means that what works with one person won’t work with another, what appeals to one person won’t appeal to another…or, as Mister Rogers says, “Some can do some things, some can do others.”
And, I personally take a very pointed early lesson in anti-monism out of that! No matter how much one thing is like another, they’re never “the same,” and it’s never a question of everything being “all one” even if everything shares certain characteristics (like uniqueness!) or comes from the same source.
I had a dream recently, in association with the closing of Travelers, in which I was asked by a person in the dream (a Hindu woman, as it happened) who I was because of my specialized knowledge, and my reply was “A person of no importance, with no name that is of any significance, who will only be in this world for a short time, and will not be missed when gone.” And, the funny thing is, as I said this, I had a smile upon my face, and believed every word of it–because, in the wider scale of things, it’s 100% true! That “nothing special” thing is something that I learned from my study of Zen in particular, and I like to try and keep it in mind as much as possible (because it is true!) to counteract any tendencies I might have toward any “cult of personality” issues that I’ve seen as a problem amongst many pagans, and in groups with which I’ve been associated previously in relation to Antinous.
I’m getting a good bit done this month, and hope to get a good bit more done, following along from what David McCulloch advised the students to do at that commencement. But, I’m also following the advice–hopefully!–of Neil Gaiman as well, which also made the rounds recently.
So, I plan to have a bit of dinner, and then go and make some good art…Because, I’m not that special, and just like everyone else who isn’t that special, only I can do the work that I’m about to do.