Unique, Not Special

Islamic motif


We live in a day and age when all children are told they are special. Certainly children as a group are special, but the emphasis on the self as basically an object of worship has really emerged in the last decade or so, with a lasting impact on children and young people. The idea that “my rights are the most important” has overtaken culturally and socially, and this is reflected in the entitlement of young people today. As a teacher in the public school system, I can confirm that narcissism, selfishness, lack of empathy, and attention seeking behavior of all kinds are at an all time high amongst teens and tweens. It is so rampant that I find myself struggling to like my students on days when they show their ugliest sides of non empathy and disinterest in anyone’s feelings or well being other than their own. This has grown from the idea that everyone is special, therefore competing versions of special-ness amongst children are at war, and parents and peers are often left as the arbiters of who wins the battle, not an unbiased party such as a teacher, society, or religious guide. 


This is one of the many reasons I am thankful for our Sheykh Lokman Efendi. As humans we always want to be special in one way or another. But there is a phrase that Seyh Efendi always says that rings in my ears when I find myself in this self centered, self pitying space that my ego loves to drag me into: “you are not special, you are unique”. This hits to the very heart of egoism and entitlement to a perfect, unbothered life. When we say “why me?”, the implication is always that WE shouldn’t have to be bothered by such problems in our lives. Remembering that you are unique but not special is such a grounding reminder that we can change our childish questions to “why NOT me?”. Why should I be spared the normal pains of life, and in fact, the first world problems that would be a luxury to some? I am unique in my spirit and soul, but I am not above the human experience and the vulnerability to my own nefs and ego. May we all remember the refrain of “unique not special” and bear it with the patience of a true murid for the sake of our Sheykhs, Amin.