an open letter to David McCullough

Dear Mr. McCullough,

By now, many of us have heard about that you-aren’t-special, Mr.-Rogers-defying graduation speech of yours. “None of you is special,” you said. “You are not special. None of you is exceptional.”

I will admit, Mr. McCullough, that my gut instinct was to shake my head at you, sit up straighter and defend myself. That oh-no-he-didn’t feeling rose up in me. Is it not that feeling of universal special-ness that compels us to impact the world? I wondered.

Further research, however, rendered me on your side of the argument. What you said is right, if not a completely necessary slap in the face. And I vehemently agree, especially with the conclusion of your speech:

“Exercise free will and creative, independent thought not for the satisfactions they will bring you, but for the good they will do others, the rest of the 6.8 billion – and those who will follow them. And then you too will discover the great and curious truth of the human experience is that selflessness is the best thing you can do for yourself. The sweetest joys of life, then, come only with the recognition that you’re not special. Because everyone is.”

Mr. McCullough, your goal was a good one: to invite the graduates to turn outward rather than inward, and recognize that life’s greatest mission arises from what is selfless.

In other words, it’s not about you. This is a beautiful, important message. Frankly, it is a message I’ve tried to spread myself.

Mr. S., ever the numbers guy, reminded me of the statistical significance of this you’re-not-special idea. Even if each of us is one in a million, that still means there are thousands in this world just like us.

And yet.

And yet, Mr. McCullough, I think there’s something you’ve missed.

Who we are isn’t special. But who we are holds far greater significance when where we are, who we know and what we do with it is considered.

Each one of us holds a unique, Creator-coordinated blend of abilities, traits, talents and tools. None of these things we can do are inherently unique. But the combination is very special. When that combination intersects with other people, all of whom have similarly unique combinations, sparks will fly.

So if we are all just another brick in the proverbial wall, it’s not who we are (bricks), but our unique position that holds the rest of the wall together.

Maybe we’re saying a similar thing, David (can I call you David?). When we turn from introspection to an others-focused, world-impacting perspective, that’s when the power is really harnessed.  

We owe it not to ourselves but to those around us to live, work and create as if we’re crazy, beautifully special. When we cease to contribute, the world ceases to grow.

I guess what I’m saying is this: Because of who we are plus where we are, unique and very special opportunities are available.

And maybe it’s time I invite Mr. Bacon to the table. You know the six degrees of Kevin Bacon: we’re all connected. I would argue that we’re connected in fantastic ways because of what we can do and how we can partner.

For example, David, you were uniquely positioned to speak to that group of graduates. Each graduate has a unique, significant blend of life experiences. When each graduates embarks on life, each carries those experiences with them. And their personality traits further empower this.

No person on this planet has the same combination of abilities, skills, talents plus relationships, life experiences and perspectives. That combination is where the beauty lies.

It’s not the who, as you say. But it’s the where, the when, the why and the how that can truly change this world. And that, Mr. McCullough, is special indeed.

Very best, and much love,
Sarah

Also! Don’t forget to enter the giveaway for Sarah Martin’s new book Stress Point.

Linking up with Thought-Provoking Thursdays with Intentional.Me today.

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4 thoughts on “an open letter to David McCullough

  1. Sometimes I think the “You are Special” is an extreme swing from what is also out there “I am Horrible.” I don’t know the right answer. The balance. I tend to go with YOU are loved and YOU can do amazing things! Are we special because we can breathe? To some, but not all. And maybe that is the balance?

    • Yes, Stacey, absolutely! Balance is tough to find and for me, it’s a pendulum… Back and forth, back and forth. Grateful for opportunities to restore balance and celebrate both community and individuality.

  2. Not to get preoccupied with how special I am or how horrible I am, maybe I just need to think more about *Whose* I am — because He is undoubtedly special! 🙂
    (Kinda what I posted about today.)

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