The Personalist Project

"Snowflake" has become the insult of choice for certain people: like the Ivy League students who scamper away to safe spaces to scribble in university-provided coloring books after an upsetting election. Or the ones who get away with excluding unapproved thoughts from the marketplace of ideas, even if they haven't read the book those thoughts were expressed in.  This whole generation, the one that can't manage to "adult" like everybody else, Minecraft-ing away in their parents' basements and declining to form families of their own. "What is it with these special snowflakes?" people my age wonder. "When will they figure out that there's nothing special about them, that they have to play by the same rules as everybody else?"

On the other hand, maybe, just maybe, a contemptuous "Nothing so special about you" is not the best message for a generation in the throes of epidemic anxiety, depression and suicide.

I understand the point. As the father in The Incredibles puts it: "If everybody's special, nobody's special." If we praise people to the skies just for showing up, handing out participation trophies like candy, we're not doing anybody any favors. Or we end up like the mother of a new college freshman overheard asking the orientation staff, "Is this a peanut-free campus?"--encouraging the children to imagine themselves entitled to a customized environment wherever they may roam.

Still, I hate to see "snowflake" turned into an insult. There  are billions and billions of snowflakes, and they all look alike at first glance. Just like people. Yet each one, it turns out, really is absolutely unique. The assumption that they were as interchangeable as they looked collapsed as soon as decent magnifying glasses were invented.

Maybe rather than, "Hey, buddy, you're no more special than anybody else," a better message would affirm that although everyone's special, no one's exempt.  Everybody is a unique and unrepeatable subject, created directly, for his or her own sake, by Almighty God, out of sheer love--but everybody is bound by certain realities. Unrepeatable subjectivity is real, and so is human nature. Unique is unique, but true is true, false is false, biology is biology, and moral law is moral law. 

In fact, we're all both more one-of-a-kind and also more deeply bound by realities we never chose than we could possibly imagine. We're both wretched and noble. We possess inalienable dignity and unbelievable stupidity and incompetence. We're both self-governing subjects, capable of making free choices with eternal consequences, and creatures about which God can very truthfully remark, "Without Me, you can do nothing."

So what we need, I submit, is to get beyond sneering, "Nothing so special about you" and murmuring, "You're so special that heaven and earth need to be modified continually for your convenience." 

Neither is helpful. But both come from somewhere.

Comments (2)

Gary Gibson

#1, Jun 15, 2017 10:06am

Thank you, Devra!  This is very thought provoking.  I needed that!

Rhett Segall

#2, Jun 17, 2017 9:34am

In the film "The Boys from Brazil" some Nazis after WWII attempt to reproduce multiple Hitlers They steal baby boys and place them in adoptive families with doting mothers and abusive fathers, very similar to Hitler's family environment. It turns out, however, that in the case of the one child followed it becomes clear that despite the similarity with Hitler from the external factors the boy is still his own and it becomes clear he cannot be made into a Hitler.

In my high school theology classes I enjoyed telling my students that their parents didn't want them!  Some would pretend to cry, sensing my attempt at humor! But then I'd say

"No, seriously, your parents didn't want you. I'm sure they welcomed you and delighted in you. But only God wanted you.  Each of us is a unique creation of God, a unique gift to humanity. In earlier times we'd say that our parents created our bodies but God created our souls. We don't talk that way today, but it's still true."

Indeed, each of us is a lovely, unique 'snowflake' !

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