6/25/12: I just realized I made a big oops! Oh boy. The quote from The Help is: "you is kind, you is smart, you is important." Sorry.
Recently I read an article about this address, in which the son of David McCullough (one of my very favorite authors) told a high school graduating class that they were not special.
For full disclosure, I have not actually read his speech, only the write-up in the newspaper. It got me thinking-- am I doing my kids a disservice by teaching them they are special? (this is not a critique of his speech, just thoughts on what it means to be special :))
It depends on how you define special. If you mean: entitled to benefits without working for them, better than others, teaching them their mediocre is great, or teaching them they deserve constant praise even when they haven't earned it, then yes that would be doing my kids a disservice (see here).
I have to admit, a popular kid's movie rubbed me the wrong way the first time I saw it, because of a line the gist of which is: saying everyone is special is the same as saying no one is. Which is another way of saying only a few people are "special," which could lead to narcissism (I'm better than others) or low self esteem (I'm not one of the chosen few). Either way, bad. Why not believe everyone is special and unique in his or her own way? Not that everyone has physical abilities worthy of being an Olympian, but that each person has unique potential to bless others if they work toward magnifying their own individual talents? Those talents might be something as simple as being easy to get along with, forgiving others easily, being good with his/her hands. Not everyone can be prime minister or a gold medalist, but anyone can be kind and hard working, for example. Special is about working hard because you believe in your potential, not the opposite.
I've learned that it's difficult for me to rise above what I believe about myself. The times when I'm the most down on myself are times when I accomplish practically nothing. When I believe in myself, I am more likely to achieve more and be more kind and positive with others along the way.
For me, special means: having intrinsic worth just by being alive, with endless potential as one of God's children. Every child is special.
I loved the character Aibileen in The Help. As the black maid to an impatient white mother, she worked every day to show love and compassion and kindness to the woman's little Mae Mobley, telling her every day "you is kind, you is special, you is important." It pricked my heart a little, because I don't know how many times I've brushed my kids thoughtlessly aside in my busy or stressed moments (I know I can't be perfect, but I can be better), like Mae Mobley's mother. Do I, even once in a day, or even a week, lovingly take them in my arms and tell them they are kind, special, and important? Or do I get too caught up in making the sandwich, cleaning the bathroom, stocking the toilet paper cupboard :) to stop and remember to do this? That is why I'm doing this project, so I can look back with no regrets. So my kids know, no matter what choices they make in life, or where life takes them, that I love them for who they are. So they'll believe in themselves and work to become that. Or not. But at least I will have done my part.
If my kids believe that everyone is special and important, just for being alive, for breathing this air, then I hope they'll learn the most important lesson I want them to learn: helping others is one of the highest things we can reach for. And it doesn't diminish me, it enhances me. Because we are all unique and special in our own way, and that is wonderful.
I'm still a believer in consequences. My child shouldn't get special treatment if he/she doesn't deserve it. But whether the experts agree or not, I'm going to be telling my kids from now on just how kind, special, and important I think they are. :)
What are your thoughts on being "special?" Next week is a new month! I'm excited for a new resolution and interested to evaluate this month and see what I've learned. Have a wonderful weekend!
Update: I found this link to do DIY shirt for baby that says "I am Kind...I am Smart (ha ha)..." here. So cute.