Is it human to want to prove that one is better than someone else? Or does this priority come out of living in society? Or living in a society where power is not equal?

I am teaching summer camp this week and yesterday my students asked me to tell the tale of the "Emperor's New Clothes". My version was definitely not exactly what I had been told as a little girl, but it was close. The story came near to some thoughts of my own about being unique versus the need to be special.

I want to differentiate between unique and special in this way: unique is being one of a kind, unlike anything else; while special is different than what is usual, but also somehow better. As humans we are each unique. No one has the same physical being, experience, thoughts or ways of doing things. That is what makes the world beautiful. Too often however people attempt to use this uniqueness to assume a specialness that they try to use over others. I like the "Emperor's New Clothes" because in the story, the Emperor's attempt to prove that he is special and better ends up having him march through town naked and looking a fool. What if he didn't feel the need to prove how much better he is? Maybe this need to prove special comes out of a world where power is unequal and where those in power don't want to admit that it is constructed through resources, society, and institutions. They were born into a circumstance that gives them power over others, but this power is not inherent to their being. This does not mean they are not unique, just that everyone else is as well, and that if they do not acknowledge this, eventually they will end up looking a fool or maybe just being very unhappy.

These lessons now that I am thinking about it are ingrained in so many of the stories we are told as children. And yet, we use power over our children all the time. Being an adult is not special or better, we have just lived through more time. That puts us in a unique place and a position of privilege, but it does not mean that our young people are any less.