“Exercise free will and creative, independent thought not for the satisfactions they will bring you, but for the good they will do others, the rest of the 6.8 billion – and those who will follow them. And then you too will discover the great and curious truth of the human experience is that selflessness is the best thing you can do for yourself. The sweetest joys of life, then, come only with the recognition that you’re not special. Because everyone is.”
I admit to being a bit surprised that McCullough felt he needed a defense at all. His words were refreshing, honest and beautiful. (Except for a few unnecessary digs at my Baltimore Orioles.)
And they were timely.
Because, as the overwhelmingly positive reaction to McCullough’s speech shows, we are in the midst of an “everyone is special” plague; one that is not doing any favors for kids, their parents or their future employers.
(Note to the graduate here: At your first job interview, don’t tell the boss that you’d like to be in her shoes in three years. Or that you’re not the ‘office kind of person.’ Really.)
In their book “The Narcissism Epidemic,” authors Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell have a chapter entitled “Seven Billion Kinds of Special.” (This book, I will add, is one of the best parenting reads out there. Even if it’s not really a parenting book.) They take aim at the same phenomena that McCullough discussed in his speech and argue that our cultural habit of telling every child that she is special does quite a lot to lower achievement and lessen empathy. (Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman argue a similar line in their popular book, “NurtureShock.”)