Here in the UK and throughout most of the world there are a plethora of TV programmes like ‘X Factor’, ‘The Voice’, ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ and ‘Big Brother’, that tend to encourage adults and children alike to see themselves as special. They may be extrovert or they may have a body good enough for the cover of Vogue, but are they really special?
When does love and care overflow into a morass of sentimental slop? I’m afraid it’s when parents, friends, teachers and lecturers all conspire to convince hapless children and young people that they are indeed special and deserving of every success.
In reality by definition only a very small minority of children can be special. After all this is a relative concept that aims to distinguish the average and inferior from the ‘special’. Otherwise the term becomes meaningless.
It does appear that young girls are the most vulnerable to this misplaced ego boost. It’s not easy growing up in a social environment where celebrity culture is so pervasive and the ‘body beautiful’ is seen as a passport to popularity, sexual success and enrichment. The idea that working hard, studying, and being socially aware is the best way to achieve a fulfilling life, is not one that appears to figure very highly in many young peoples’ minds.
It often seems that in every area of our lives we can only succeed or pass. The concept of failure has to be avoided at all costs. This approach can even be found in the world of education. Colleges seem to operate a system that awards a pass to all students who just regularly turn up for lessons and who submit their work on time. Now that may well be an achievement but should it merit a ‘pass’ irrespective of the quality of the work submitted or classes assessed. It appears that there is a received wisdom that it is damaging to children and young people to label them a failure. But if this is the case doesn’t the system devalue real achievement and doesn’t it fail the students who really shine and who are arguably really special?
Of course there is one area of public life where success and failure is clearly apparent – sport. Here there are winners and losers. No in-betweenees, no hiding place for the superficially ‘special’. Just think of Andy Murray who fulfilled his dream in 2013 by becoming Wimbledon Men’s Tennis Champion. He has experienced the excruciating pain and disappointment of failure and loss. But he has explained how he used those experiences to strengthen his resolve to succeed and to re-double his efforts – in training, in body building and in his mental strength – to up his game and to ultimately win at the highest level of his sport. This shows there is no easy way to success. However, the cumulative effect of the many TV programmes featuring ordinary people and B list celebrities tends to convince the general public that provided you are ‘special’ there is an easy route to success. Not all of us are likely to be seen as attractive enough to become a presenter or a model. Neither is it likely that our personalities will be so compelling or attractive that it would be sufficient to make us lots of money and to succeed in life generally.
When the task of finding a decent job that pays enough to enjoy life today gets more difficult in the prevailing economy, it is disingenuous to pretend to our younger cousins that they can succeed because they are simply special. It would be better if we encouraged them to hone their skills and knowledge towards making them a more attractive prospect in an extremely tight market place.