I am conflicted. I wonder as I type the previous sentence if it is a surprise to people who know me best. I doubt that it is. I think the people who know me best know I spend a great deal of time in this mental state. Strangely, others who are only acquainted with me probably find the exact opposite to be true.

In the current installment, I am conflicted about this website, but not really about the site. The site is a microcosm, a symptom of a larger issue.

Ego Building Blocks

Mrs. Sykes was my elementary school principal. (I think she would be proud that use the correct spelling of that term.) I greatly admired this wonderful woman. Each time she addressed an audience where I was attendance she stressed one concept above all others. “You are special children.” I remember sitting indian-style (not a kosher term anymore, must call it criss-cross applesauce) soaking in these words–think Ralphie from A Christmas Story in front of the radio listening to the code to save Little Orphan Annie. She was imparting a secret that we at Jefferson elementary were gifted above all others.

Looking backwards now, I believe this message was meant much less for my well-adjusted life and much more for those with ones less stable. I can see her Texas bravado needing to bestow embellishment to encourage the young, vulnerable minds hearing her message. Inspiring dignity because of each child’s uniqueness is a noble activity and one she did not display with simple lip service. Those of us consistently read to, hugged, washed and those not so blessed knew that she would welcome us with open arms and squeeze tight because we were special.

This message continued to resonant with me as I moved through later days. Even though it was consistently assaulted with simple fact. I am not that different than anyone else. The things that make me unique equally as often tie us together.

For the most part, we like this fact. Well-adjusted people want to be admired by peers for an exceptional skill or possession, all the while knowing that our heightened status is undermined if the qualifications change. I might be a great mind, but if I am asked to be a craftsman perhaps I fail to live up to your standard.

My early realizations of this contradiction manifested in a few different ways. I realized early on that I was actually pretty well-rounded, but not exceptional at anything, really. I have many talents, but most of them fall short of expertise. In fact, I remember thinking that as soon as I found something I excelled in, I quickly was introduced to someone who did it better than I. Because of this, I began to think that my specialty was in fact my ability to not be a specialist.

Another manifestation occurred as I realized that people did not know how special I was. This happened more and more as I got older. Somehow I would get passed by or misunderstood. So I began to become cynical about others. Of course, I did not know I was cynical until the others that I spoke to diagnosed me as such. I honestly thought I was viewing a reality that only certain people could see. Did this make me an intolerable tool at times? Why yes, yes it did.

“We resent this comparison. Honestly, what tool has ever been intolerable?”

But I thought it also made me cool. It has to do with something about being at the tail end of Gen X. I thought my feelings of being above all of this (whatever this was), meant I was an instrumental part of what made my generation better than all the others. We were realists. I did not understand that Reality Bites was not full of heroes.

I have spent years, literally years trying to not be an intolerable tool with some mixed results. All the while warring against my own rugged individualist sense. If you don’t understand me, then I don’t need you. In fact, I don’t really like you, so I don’t care how you feel about me. Sure this is a defense mechanism. I am glad you can see this. Don’t worry; I can see it too. I have always been able to see it.

“I told you he wasn’t over us.”
“I can’t define irony, but I know it when I see it”

The conflict for me has always been that in order to be special, I have to be able to compare myself to others. If I am not better in some aspect and admired by people because of this fact, then I cannot rightly consider myself special. So the Mrs. Sykes of my childhood has always stroked my ego, always pushed onto my consciousness onto vanity.

I would love for this site or anything I else I do to make my name famous; for people to remember my achievements long after I am gone; accomplishing immortality through memory. At the same time, I desire people to have no ability to judge my work or me. If I could achieve this fame without ever having to deal with a single person who might annoy, then that would be just fine—thank you for offering.

Tending the Bonfire

I am obviously not alone. We live in a society that hates judgment unless we are the ones issuing the pronouncements. I know all too well what it feels like to desire universal acceptance and to want to knock those who might have gained it. So let me not exclude myself from this frame of mind. Being able to admit this to myself helps me to overcome it. But I realize lots of things about myself that I am unable to overcome –see height.

I think one way I have been able to become better at overcoming this characteristic is through my kids. Children need to be told the story, not why it’s cooler not to care about it. I have also been better because I have worked to think about other’s wellbeing, not as a way to benefit myself, but as an end in and of itself. There are many wise writings that point to this mindset as the way to achieve a healthy and happy life. Of course, there is no better teacher…

These activities do not eliminate my fear that my life will not be special or that I will just be forgotten, but they make it less likely or more acceptable if it is inevitable.

Although I doubt this site will ever bring me fame and fortune, as much as I might like it. It can be an outlet to challenge myself to think through difficult things and articulate them in a way that causes discussion and, on occasion, understanding. This is certainly not special in the seemingly never-ending Internet space, but it is satisfying.