A Sense of Entitlement

I am Special

Sometimes I ask a group of parents, "Do you want your child to feel she is special?" They invariably answer that they do. This is misguided. Allow yourself to be shocked, but think a bit about why I am suggesting that this is misguided. Your child is unique and individual, but not special, except of course to you. Whoa now: hear me out. First, we have programs in our schools which make posters for each child with all of the reasons he is special. These reasons generally include: I am special because I can play video games or because I like to watch television. These posters suggest that a child is special because she is a consumer, not a producer. With these posters, specialness and self-esteem are built not on competence, good relationships with peers, productivity or even on being alive, but on the level of one's consumerism. These projects promote narcissism, excessive admiration for oneself or conceit, not healthy self-esteem.

Second, do we even want our children to believe they are special? No, we don't. And don't for a moment think that all of our children can be special. By definition, we cannot all be special, most of us have to be average or regular. Unique and individual we are, and these are helpful things to teach children. Special, however, connotes something above, something better. Herein lies the problem. Think about this for a moment. We currently seem to have a problem in our society: we have too many people who believe they are entitled to any and every service and product, and further, more entitled than anyone else. They should be waited upon first; they needn't speak politely; they can interrupt whomever they please and make demands; they will accept another person's help, opening a door for instance, without a smile or a glance. These people are so special that they are entitled to interrupt a speaker, a restaurant's quiet, or a symphony's beauty with their important cell phon! e calls. Believing I am special would mean that I'm entitled to do all of these things and more. Wait. If I believe I am special, I am, logically, better than you. But am I? No. Yet if I am actively taught that I am special, I may believe this to be true. Let me further illustrate this point. As we drove to a seminar in Philadelphia, I watched a car blatantly and belatedly run a red light. The woman in the car with me immediately commented, "He must be special." Indeed, this driver was special, so special that he did not have to stop for a red light. For many people special can include above the law, beyond the rules and exempt from courtesy. That may not be what you want for your child, but it is all too often the end result of being special.

Yes, your child is special to you, but that is different from special in general and to everyone. What if we replaced special with the fact that all of our children are precious beyond belief and incredibly valuable? We have something better than special; we have priceless. Here we maintain our equality, for which child is not precious and valuable? After all, it was our founding fathers who taught us that "all men are created equal." Perhaps we need to remember this with regard not only to just under the law but with regard to the treatment of each other. We are all worthy of being treated with dignity, respect and kindness. In fact, if we are to treat each other with dignity and respect, none of us can be more special than another. My guess is that in these times where good, solid character can be difficult to find, people with this type of strong character may rank as special. They never, however, believe themselves to be special or above others. Humility is a virtue.

The children who understand this best are the very children we label special. Special needs children, any child with special challenges, wish to be anything but special. They want only to be like other children. Special needs children understand this concept early in their lives. Being special can cause disconnection with others.

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