As parents of athletes, especially, this statement is certainly one few of us has uttered. “You are not special.” Are we doing our children more harm than good by constantly telling them just how extraordinary they are?
In 2012, a video of the commencement speech by high school English teacher, David McCullough, Jr. to the graduating seniors of his school in Wellesley, MA went viral. The reason? He told the students of the well-to-do community that they weren’t special. In explaining this line to USA Today’s Bob Minzesheimer, McCullough explained, “An inflated sense of self can be burdensome for a teenager, even inhibiting. With expectations high, every step tends to become laden with significance. For some, this can be paralyzing. Better would be to set aside any self-satisfaction or notions of entitlement, focus on the moment, and try one’s best. Outcomes will take care of themselves.” On the Diane Rehm show, he further explained that, when kids think that they are special, while others are not, they often develop a sense of entitlement that causes them to behave badly or mistreat others. “Special has become kind of a code word for superior,” McCulough explained to Rehm. Did Mr. Rogers have it wrong when he told us we were all special? Or does the fact that everyone is special mean special is the new average? Listen to the interview to see what you think. McCullough’s book, You Are Not Special and Other Encouragements is available at booksellers now.
By Leslie Jenkins