How can we be both unique and not special? It’s a paradox.
We are unique in many ways. No one has the same DNA, fingerprints, voice, or irises as you do. No one has the same life experiences that you do. No one has had the same opportunities and challenges that you have had. The world would not be the same without you. Our meetings at work or in our communities would not be the same without you.
Uniqueness, however, does not mean we are special in the sense of being better or smarter than anyone else. It does not mean we have cornered the market on “The Truth” nor should we be given special privileges. Our uniqueness does not entitle us to pressure people into thinking as we do or caring about the same things we do. Entitlement based on a sense of specialness misses the gift of everyone’s uniqueness. However, as with many gifts, it comes with challenges.
Difficulties arise in conversations when we experience others’ uniqueness as competing with or threatening our own. In this way, we miss the gifts of everyone’s unique contributions to meetings and create our own challenges.
One of my greatest teachers, Angeles Arrien, believed that “Our work is to come fully forward with our gifts, talents, and resources.” In addition to bringing these forward in our meetings, our work is also to invite and receive the gifts, talents, and resources of others to help us meet the issues we face at work and in our communities.
Contributing unique gifts and receiving those of others takes courage because we need to both appreciate and be willing to contribute our own gifts and honor those of others. It took me a long time to be willing to stand behind my own “original medicine” (a sense of wonder and ability to ask big questions) and not get cowed by those of others (people who ask even bigger questions).
The first step in contributing your unique gifts to interactions is to understand what they are. The second step is to learn how to offer them in an inclusive, collaborative way. (This is the subject of next week’s blog.)
Inviting and receiving the unique gifts of others can be more challenging. It helps if you appreciate your own and decide to view the “original medicine” of others as a gift to whatever challenge the group is tackling and not as a personal threat to you. As Arrien would often say, before having a difficult conversation make sure that your self-worth is stronger than your self-critic. When the self-critic is stronger, we are more likely to experience others’ gifts as a threat instead of a gift.