Exceptionalism is a concept often attached to entire nations or societies. The idea that a nation or people are the exception is attractive. ‘We are God’s chosen ones’ is a sentiment found across national, ethnic, religious and other groups.
But what about little ol’ me?
Think what you will of collective exceptionalism, but I have a confession: I suffer from personal exceptionalism. Is it a curse? Am I delusional? Or could I make an apparent affliction into an asset?
What I mean by personal exceptionalism is an innate sense that I was meant to be alright, on the winning side, happy and content – that the arc was meant to be a rising one. Is this just dangerously wishful thinking? Perhaps, but could it be useful?
It’s not fair!
The obvious pitfall of personal exceptionalism is that it won’t cope with reality. What happens if I’m not alright, if I’m not on the winning side, if I’m not happy and content? Hey, [could be your response] who short-changed me? Was it you, punk?
While that dangerous road is there, the more I learn from others, the more I start to see personal exceptionalism as a useful base to start from. It’s what Rick Hanson calls ‘being on your side’. He points out how many of us are not, in our heads, on our own team. We beat ourselves up.
At its best, I believe the personal exceptionalism that many of us hold inside ourselves can be used to help us live better. Of course it can be a demon in a dark corner. It can easily be used to tell us how unfair life has been. But it can also be turned into a beacon, reminding us where we could go.