A while back I had to go and buy a card for a one year old boy. That is, I had to go and buy a card for the parents of a one year old boy who were celebrating his birthday.
Perhaps regrettably, I am the sort of person who actually reads the messages inside the birthday cards to gauge their appropriateness. Browsing down through the quite wide range of cards for one year old boys, I noticed that every card -without exception- mentioned the fact that the recipient was ‘very special’. I looked in vain for a card for a one year old boy -not a ‘normal’ one, or a ‘regular’ one, but for a boy. But there was none, so I didn’t buy any.
It doesn’t mean much to say that a child is special. Call me a sourpuss, but I think that all children would be better off if they were never told that they were special. There was a scene in the Incredibles -much trumpeted by some people of a conservative disposition- where the superpowered child observes -rightly- that if everyone is said to be special, then that means that no-one is. In the conservative reading, the scriptwriter’s intention is interpreted -perhaps correctly, I don’t really know- as to demonstrate that in modern society, real specialness is frowned upon, and in its place you have a touchy-feely, inclusive specialness foisted upon everyone. The result, then, is that the really special people are encouraged to hide their lights under a bushel, resulting in personal unhappiness for them, and a great loss to society as a whole. It would be far better, this line of thought continues, if all children (and parents) came to terms with the fact that some children are special, whereas others are not. People should ‘get with the programme’ from an early age.
Well, I don’t buy that. When it comes to children, any idea about what might constitute ‘specialness’ is a product of the society in which it is formed, and has a lot to do with the function that the child will be able to perform within that society.
So, in certain parts of 18th Century England, the ‘special’ child might be one who cleans 50% more chimneys a week. Likewise, a child who is able to read his cards on the occasion of his first birthday might be said to be ‘special’: but to what end? So that she can design her first cluster bomb for the Pentagon at the age of 9?