You Are Not Special

A big problem I have with current parenting techniques, the co-called PC Parenting (as in Politically Correct Parenting), where parents tell their child they are special, they are capable of everything, and they can be anything they want to be, no matter what.

These people read a few too many fairy tales in their childhood, I imagine.  Every person in the world is limited by a number of circumstances, from their personal capabilities to their environmental capabilities.

Personal circumstances might be…wealth, physical or mental handicap, or talent.

For instance if you are a paraplegic…you will never be an Olympic hurdler, that’s simply a fact.  I’ve been a fan of the anime Naruto for a long time and talent vs. training is a major motif of the series.  There are two major instances of this motif: Uzumaki Naruto and Uchiha Sasuke; and Hyuuga Neiji and Rock Lee.

Neiji is a member of a wealthy family and is probably the strongest and most talented member of the family.  Lee is probably relatively poor, his parents are never shown, and he is completely talentless.  He has spent his whole life practicing and training, but Neiji defeats every time they spar, with ease.

Similarly with Naruto and Sasuke…they are both orphans, but Sasuke is incredibly talented.  He’s good at everything he does.  Naruto, however, has no talent and is a bit of a slacker; although he eventually develops a good work ethic and studies and trains very hard.  But here’s the thing…Naruto has a limitless supply of chakra, or energy.  Sasuke is a better fighter, he’s a better tactician, he’s a smarter person, and a faster learner; but Naruto just throws his strongest techniques at him until Sasuke is too weak to go on and Naruto wins.

Neiji and Lee are a good lesson in talent vs. no talent.  If you don’t have any talent, you probably won’t ever be as good as the talented person beside you.  Now yes, if Lee trains hard and Neiji doesn’t train at all, then Lee will eventually overcome this lack of talent.  But if Neiji trains the same amount as Lee, then he will never catch up to Neiji.

I use my own experience to prove this.  I have 22 years experience in Martial Arts.  At the Dojo where I used to train (and teach at times) there was a prodigy kid who trained there.  In two and a half years’ time he got his Black Belt, and he deserved it.  He was the U.S. Grand Champion in weaponry a few years ago.  He achieved this by using a weapon he had picked up two weeks before the first tournament.

I trained for ten years with a sword (a Katana) and came in second in a state-wide competition…he trained for two weeks with Japanese sickles (called Kama) and came in first in the nation.

When I was still in shape and competing I trained constantly…during my breaks at work, at the dojo, at home, on the phone, almost all the time.  This kid trained a lot, too, but a lot less than I did.

In sparring matches he bested me 3/5 times on average, slightly better than half.  I had him beat on size, strength, and experience.  He beat me in point sparring, full-contact sparring, ground-fighting, katas/patterns, and weapons (with our respective weapons, I used a sword he used kamas).

Because he had an innate talent in martial arts he was able to surpass me in 1/20th the time I had spent training.  No matter how much I trained, how much experience I had, or how hard I tried…he was always better than me and was always getting better faster than I was.

Environmental circumstances might be location, demand, or supply.  For instance you probably won’t succeed at cactus farming in Montreal, Canada.  New Mexico, maybe, but not Montreal.

That’s why I like this graduation speech.  This guy is practical, funny, and honest.  Remember recent graduates, future graduations, and past graduations…there are 37,000 high school sin the U.S.  That’s 37,000 valedictorians, 37,000 class presidents, and a whole lot of ‘unique’ and ‘special’ people who aren’t unique or special at all.

This is an English teacher from Wellesley High, near Boston, David McCullough Jr.  You can watch the video of his speech on Yahoo!.


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