For almost every topic, there are different groups raising slogans, hanging banners, printing -shirts, organizing meetings and conferences and other ways to promote and strengthen their group’s position. This idea is so widespread that there are even groups for “Earth is Flat”. The same way, there is and has been a continuous debate about “special” status of human species. There are some who describes it as just another ape or even an animal for that matter. There are also people who believe that humans are so special that without them the world won’t exist, as after all world’s whole purpose is to provide a playground to humans. Some would argue that humans are just another speck of dust in the cosmic cloud. And for some it is only a different vibrations of the some multi-dimensional strings (String theory) unless you prefer gravity and thus decided to follow a different theory (Loop quantum gravity). For sci-fi movie fans, it may also be all in the “Matrix” and simply be a matter of red or the blue pill.
These are generally the topics of the human species being special. I intend to take the topic of “specialty” as a feeling. To evaluate the species weirdness based on the parameter of “feeling of being special”. The previous paragraph shows one dimension where we try to feed our hunger of being special. But, it is not just the only topic for which we debate about. But still, it is a very basic and fundamental factor to make us feel special as a whole collective unit. One thing we need to keep in mind is about relativity. If we are special, it must have a some kind of grading system attached to it. Pretty much the way the “wonders of the world” are special but they get a rating and we can say, which is more special than the other. Otherwise, what is the difference? We would be lost without it and probably won’t be able to make sense of “wonders of the world”. Without that rating, even an ordinary street lamp would be added in the same category. Keeping that in mind, we must be debating about it with the hope that there will always be atleast one group with a different idea than ours way to thinking special. If whole of mankind starts to promote one theory about human species as special, let’s say the only conscious species in all the known universe, then what value does it have. We would declare ourselves special, so what? If we had sprint races where only 1 person competes and we always measured the effort in this particular race, what did we achieve?
But, this feeling of specialness is not constrained only to humans as a species. At almost every aspect of life, this feeling modulates if not drives an individual’s behavior. Most of the time, we are not aware of it. If pointed out, we may deny it and at yet another point, we actively try to deny it. One just need to be a little aware of the world around itself and many things would suddenly show up. Let’s try to look at some of the examples of being special.
A very simple one is dressing. The fundamental purpose of clothing is to provide our hairless, thin and soft skin a cover to protect against the varying climate. Second comes the social norm of “not-roaming-around-naked”. This is probably the main reason people would consider today, if asked why do they dress. Just look around yourself and notice, is it all that clothing is about? Indeed not. Clothing is one of the simplest and obvious way of rating oneself special. It clearly applies to the big roles e.g. religious leaders, kings and queens, sportsmen, musicians, singers and so on. This does not relates only to these specific roles. Dresses are used on daily basis by men and women across the world in their own social group. Just see people flashing their dresses/clothes in any party or any occasion; may it be a birthday, weeding, baptism or just a theme party. From type of the cloth, to style of the cloth, to colors, to origins and the brand that we are wearing, all relates to making us feel special in the crowd. Mostly it goes on in circles, clothes that makes people special today, tomorrow they would be just an ordinary and we may pick a dress from the past to make us feel special. If we loosen up the definition of dressing and include decorating ourselves with makeup, hair-dos, jewelry, watches and so on would be included in it. The same principle applies to all these ways of making us feel special. After all a simple 5 dollar watch also tells the time good enough for it’s purpose in comparison to a 100 thousand dollar fancy rare edition.
Same is the case with objects we possess. It can be a car, a bike, a house, apartment and so on. People at their level of capacity try to acquire objects that make them feel special among others. For some things e.g. house or an apartment cannot make much of a difference among peers. After all there are only few builders who creates buildings with similar looking houses. In such cases, people use “non-functional” objects to keep their feeling of special alive. House, car, apartment, bike all have some use. However, one can still have some painting in their house or some decoration, some tapestry hanging on their walls. Some would buy a special kitchenware that they would only use when some “outsider” visits them. The list is endless and we have used our imagination to keep the list going on. In the recent times it is about mobile phones.
We are probably the only species who use travel as a way to make us feel special. Most of other species travel because it is needed. However, we are the only one known to us who travels to make us feel special. This way, we may not be a king, but we have something special to share with our social group. Some pictures to share, some incidents to talk about that can show that we did something special in our life. There used to be the time of “travelers”. With time came the “tourists”; seasonal or ad-hoc it depends on people. Some would share with pride that how every summer they go to the same place and do same things. People feel special when they say, “I have been going there for 10 years and have always stayed at the same place”. While others feel special, when they add one more country to or a city to their “travel map”. With new found money tourists got mapped as “crowd”. For some cities and countries they are an “unwanted necessity”. New ways were needed to make us feel special. With the world mostly living in peace and borders opening up across the world, came along new ways of travel. People started doing bike/car/bicycle/hitch-hiking/walking tours. People were now doing hitch-hiking and walking tours not because it is their need (due to lack of money maybe). Rather a lot of these travels are done because people attach to it the feeling of being special. It can be because walking tours are the fashion nowadays. People can link it with “green theology” and they feel special that they are saving the world from “bad pollution caused by air traffic”. Airbnb, couch surfing and similar also used the similar concept. After some time, they all became the norm and people try to find new ways. Volunteer travel is one of the new option in the world of travel. This makes people feel special that they are helping the community as a mutual exchange. Well an ordinary travel is also an exchange of many things, but the ordinary way does not help some satisfy their need of being special. While there are groups who protest against low wages and exploitation of humans by capitalist, there are people who go to work (as volunteers) and they pay all expenses of travel, stay and food. This is their way to make them feel special.
The debate is on. What if everyone becomes the so-called traveller?
Food is another activity, where we really get involved trying to be special. It is especially valid for those cultures and communities whose food became globally known. It can be Italian, French, Mexican, Indian, Chine, Japanese or Mediterranean. People will go on lengths to describe how their recipe is better or how the other cook added a pinch of salt more than it was necessary. How the meat was little less cooked or rice was bit overboiled. I have seen people having day after day having the same discussions about “to add garlic before onions or after in the frying pan”. These are all the discussions when they are having discussions within their own food culture. When it comes to cross culture food discussions, it is gets complicated as far as the matter of “specialness” is concerned. People find themselves here struggling to balance their weightage on different characteristics on which they evaluate their specialness. I won’t get into the details of culinary debates, but two factors that people often need to balance is to “my food is better” vs “I like variety of food”. In this case feelings are from different dimensions. “My food is better” is about feeling special about your own culture. While “I like the variety” is about my personal attribute to show how mature I am. The result maybe different, based on the kind of the social group a person is. If a person, let’s say from France, with his friends tries some dish from Bangladesh, he may very quickly say how strange/weird this food is or how he likes the French or other similar cuisine. On the contrary, if the same person is in a business meeting with people from mixed ethnicity ( especially if the boss is from Bangladesh), would value his “likeness to variety” more. Try to have a discussion about coffee among Italian, American and Turkish. The same goes for farm food vs organic food vs non-GMO food. I once a met a person who offered me an orange, which had a leaf attached to its stem. He was so was excited and said,” These are so nice orange, look how beautiful!. It even has a leaf on it. Isn’t it nice?” I was at loss of words as I could not figure out if this person earlier though that oranges are usually without leaves?. I smiled and peeled the orange and stared to eat. ( As a side note, depending on who is reading, I am sure the feeling was specialness would raised, in one or the other side of scale, when you read that a French person has a boss from Bangladesh).
There was a time when humans did not need exercise. Their daily activities were physical enough to keep their bodies working and healthy. Afterall, if you are outside in the hunt of animals or search for fruits, it is not the same like sitting in car and driving to market. Even when agriculture was developed, it was not about sitting on the vehicle and moving across the farm. All the activities needed physical work and there was no need for an “exercise”. Fast forward today, we have thousands of “groups” promoting their way of exercise. No effort is left to convince the customer as to why their method is so special. Once it was just Yoga, today there are hundreds of varieties of yoga. People make their exercise special, even by changing the clothing. The same way people try to feel special by doing an activity. You can see among your friends as well. I am sure invariably someone would have atleast one person in their group who would like to promote his/her special activity. One may feel special after running, other may promote gym training, yet another friend may tell you benefits of pilates. There is always someone who is simply keeping watch on all the latest trends of the exercises as well. One day it may be Zumba and the other day it may be acroYoga. There is not end to it and we keep on devising new exercises to keep us feeling special. If we do not feel special, we may not even go for it.
There are many ways in which we want to feel special. From the choice of toothpaste to the kind of mattress we go to sleep in. I believe this feeling started to takeover when we managed to have our daily struggle of survival in control. More secure we are in our pyramid of needs, more our life is influenced by the feeling of specialness. The influence is so deep, probably means it really developed long back in our evolution, that we can behave completely oblivious to it. Listen to some religious leader giving a sermon, “In Gods eye we all are equal”; in his fancy, elaborated robes and ornaments. You can see that in many non-religious spiritual leaders as well. They will make their teachings special by staging it at special places and charging premier prices. Capitalism vs socialism or democracy vs king’s rule. Almost every behavior of human species can be related to being special.
Shakespeare writes ,”What’s in the name?”. A lot of people while talking at some intellectual gathering would happily align with the idea. But, you can cross check that reality by just looking at the effort that goes into selecting a child’s name to make it special. People would agree to the idea of humans as a speck in the cosmic dust after listening to Carl Sagan. But, just after 5 minutes you can hear them going on in detail how they had special summer vacation last year. We like this feeling so much that even when someone says, “I am not special”, it comes with a hidden twist to make him feel special about his humbleness.
Does this make human species weird? Maybe, maybe not. Afterall, we are the only one (so far) to evaluate ourselves. Do animals have the similar feeling of specialness? I do not know. To some extent, once can say yes. Does the alpha chimp has no feeling of his special status? I would say he does. Same would go for every animal species with a leader. But, the difference in my opinion is that animals do not do something just to make them feel special. Rather they may do something that can make them feel special (if at all it happens). And that makes humans weird than rest of the species.
One day, we may find another species who can evaluate us the way we do other species on this planet. Or maybe one day we develop Artificial Intelligence enough that it can evaluate us on various parameters. I don’t know what parameters would be considered by it, but I hope that smiling would be one of those attributes. It may conclude, that this weird species smiles a lot. So, keep on smiling if we want to be evaluated special one day by other species.
The feeling of being special explained by the master.
The bus was crowded when the little old lady got on, and Mulla Nasrudin stood up. She pushed the Mulla back gently and said, “No, thanks.” Nasrudin tried to rise again and she pushed him back a second time. Finally, Nasrudin said to her, “PLEASE LET ME GET UP, LADY, I AM TWO BLOCKS PAST MY STOP NOW.”