Posted by: suekenney | March 29, 2013

What’s So Special About That?

The Parr family. From left to right: Elastigir...

The Parr family. From left to right: Elastigirl, Mr. Incredible, Violet and Dash. Bottom: Jack-Jack. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


I’ve been meditating a lot lately on a couple of lines from one of my favorite intellectual films:  The Incredibles.  Most of you probably know the basic plotline:  the superheroes of the world are forced to go undercover, forswear their superpowers, and forever pretend to be just ordinary non-superpowered citizens.  The Parr family – dad Bob (Mr. Incredible), mom Helen (Elastigirl), and children Violet, Dash, and baby JackJack – are the central focus of the movie, as Bob is increasingly unhappy concealing his true powers, and son Dash is chomping at the bit to show off his super-speed.

Early on in the movie, as Helen is once again patiently explaining to Dash why he must conceal his speed in school, she comments, “Everyone’s special, Dash.”  In response, Dash mutters, “Which is another way of saying no one is.”

Later, the villain of the piece, Syndrome, is explaining his nefarious plot to the captive Mr. Incredible.  Syndrome is a genius, with apparently a LOT of money to throw around, and has invented all kinds of gadgets that give him, a non-superpowered individual, a variety of super abilities:  flying, force shields, tractor beams, etc.  As he tells Mr. Incredible, when he gets too old to enjoy them himself, he’ll make these inventions available to everyone so that everyone can enjoy super powers

Syndrome, the antagonist of the movie, was wel...

Syndrome, the antagonist of the movie, was well received. He was No.64 in Wizard’s top 100 villains. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Everyone can be super,” he says; “and when everyone’s super – no one will be.”

To paraphrase:  “When everyone has the same awesome abilities, no one will be considered special anymore.”

That line – that concept – has been bothering me.  Do you have to have super powers or incredible natural talents  to be special?  Does that mean that anyone who isn’t a super hero – or a phenomenal athlete – or a Pulitzer Prize-winning author – or a world class musician – or a scientist who has discovered the foundational secrets of physics or chemistry – or an entrepreneur who amasses enormous wealth – or a military leader who defeats every enemy with spectacular ease – or a medical researcher who has discovered the cure for cancer – does that mean that anyone who isn’t regarded by the world as outstanding in his or her field, isn’t special?

If you look at “special” as meaning “outstanding; distinguished by some unusual quality; being in some way superior” – then the answer is yes.  The ordinary citizen on the street is not special at all.

This is how our American culture tends to view “special.”  We idolize sports heroes; popular singers and musicians; the super-wealthy; the super-glamorous; actors and actresses who have made major box office hits; politicians who wield great power – anyone who stands out from the crowd.  We want to be special ourselves: rich, famous, powerful, incredibly talented; and we are encouraged in our fantasizing by the advertising media, by the TV shows and movies we watch, even by our politicians who insist that we as a nation (or state, or county, or city, or township) must be Number One.

But there is another definition of “special.”  Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary also defines “special” as “held in particular esteem.”  Again to paraphrase, “regarded with respect or admiration or affection unique to that one.” So what does that mean?  Do you have to stand out from the crowd to be “held in particular esteem”?

Hardly.  I’ll use my grandsons (my favorite examples).  One is three years old; the other is six months old.  Obviously both of them are far too young to have exhibited great athletic prowess, or literary genius, or financial acumen, or musical talent, or political savvy.  Neither one has won any Pulitzers, Nobels, Grammys, Emmys, Purple Hearts, Medals of Honor, or any other award.  Their names are known only to a few people, mostly relatives.

And yet, I find them very special; I hold them both “in particular esteem.”  I take great delight in being with them, in playing with them, in laughing with them, in just holding them.  I cherish every moment I am able to spend with them.

Here’s another example: Mother Teresa.  No, not she herself, although I agree that she was an incredible woman.  No, I am talking about those whom she served for all those years:  the incredibly poor, the incredibly sick, the downcast and downtrodden, the abject rejects of the society.  Why did Mother Teresa daily expend her life to serve these people, so insignificant in the eyes of everyone else?  Because each one was special to her.  Each one, no matter how poor, or sick, or ugly, or old, or young, or downtrodden, was precious in her eyes.  Any why would that be?  Because she saw each one as a life created by God, cherished by God – but horribly abused by this sinful world we live in.

To be regarded as special, or “held in particular esteem,” these things don’t really matter:  age, sex, sexual orientation, race, nationality, political party, economic status, individual talents, personal preferences, health, accomplishments.  Every life has been lovingly crafted by God; as His agents here on earth, we are to cherish each one and do whatever is in our power to imporve their lives here on earth.

So I reject the elitism inherent in both Dash’s and Syndrome’s remarks.  I choose to view every person as special, despite age, sex, etc. (see above).  And there is a great easing of the pressure to feel that we have to perform or accomplish something awesome to be regarded as special.  My “specialness” lies in the facts that God made me, He loves me, and other people love me as well.  Nothing greater is required.

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