The Terrible Cost of Specialness

The Terrible Cost of Specialness

Recently I heard this story from a worker at the dining facility of a high-priced family camp. The rustic camp attracts families who spend up to $6000-$8000 a week for a vacation that usually lasts one or two weeks. Many families have been coming back for many years, and seating in the communal dining room is strictly on the basis of seniority.

The worker described the very serious task of assigning seats based upon an intricate hierarchy of sometimes generations of family campers. If a family feels that they have not been properly seated, a heated discussion can result.

“Do they complain about the food?” I asked. “Rarely,” was the response. “The most important thing is where they are seated. The food is the same for all guests.”

I summarized the sad news of what I was hearing: “Families have just a few short weeks to enjoy some peace and quiet away from the city, they spend a large amount for their vacation, and yet they fight over being the top dog in the dining room.”

“Pretty much,” she replied. “Conflict especially arises when a family switches weeks for their vacation and learns that ‘their table’ is being occupied by another family during the week they switched into.”

Is this behavior so unusual? Why do we value thoughts that rob our peace of mind? Do we really value being right over being happy? Is this our universal condition, to value what is valueless? If so, why?

Donna Goddard writes:

Although we say we want love and peace in our life, most of us cannot tolerate them for very long. Our ego gets much of its identity from being in conflict with situations and people, even people we love. Unless the ego feels something personal is giving it energy, it will have a tendency to start getting angsty; looking to grab onto something which will make it feel like it has substance. It seeks constant affirmation that it is alive and important, and much of that affirmation comes from other people being wrong and it being right.

Earlier this year a friend shared a story of how Delta Airlines makes its frequent flyers feel special. Frequent flyers board first, and as they approach the gate attendant, they get to walk over a “dirty blue sky priority mat.” The rest of the passengers are not so special.  After priority passengers board, a velvet rope closes the lane over the dirty mat and the rest of the passengers board via a parallel lane without the “benefit” of stepping on the mat.

Since my friend first made his observations about the mat, he has achieved frequent flyer status. Somewhat tongue-in-cheek  he says, “now that I get to walk over the dirty blue carpet, it does make me feel extra special!”

I fly frequently on Southwest Airlines. Southwest boards by groups beginning with A 1-30.  Southwest could say about their first boarding group “A 1-30, welcome aboard” but instead they say, “Upgraded Business Select passengers A 1-15 followed by A 16-30, welcome aboard.” Quite the mouthful! Clearly there is a corporate directive to stroke business select customers with a public acknowledgement. And yes, like my friend, I do get a bit of secret satisfaction when I board with the first group.

What are Delta and Southwest on to? Is our ego bought off so easily? Look at your thinking throughout the day. Is not most of it about “me” and what “me” needs or doesn’t need?

The ego thrives on separateness and differences. So yes, even an absurd thing like stepping on a rug or being publically acknowledged for being a business select customer will stroke the ego and increase consumer loyalty.

Why does the ego thrive on differences and being special? Quantum physicists explain that reality consists of an undifferentiated whole, which we can call Wholeness. The separated me, according to Albert Einstein, is an optical delusion of [our] consciousness. This delusion is a “prison,” Einstein wrote. Why? When we are in our prison we are cut-off from the gifts that emanate from our True Self. And those gifts are only available from Wholeness.

We are all experts on our own ego and its predilections. Our ego tells us what makes us happy or unhappy. We believe if we get more of the “happy” and less of the “unhappy,” we will finally be fulfilled. Being an expert on “me” means that we lose our ability to find the deep abiding happiness that our True Self provides. When we honor our ego’s false beliefs, we feed our ego power.

Tom Carpenter writes, “All of the ego’s power is derived from our mistaken belief that there is an alternative to Love.”

How can there be an alternative to Love? We can pretend that sitting at a table or steeping into a carpet will make us happy. There is nothing wrong with make believe, but the ego’s price is steep and the hangover is terrible.

The hangover comes in the form of the low buzz of angst that most of us live with us. Some try to medicate the buzz. Alcohol, drugs, shopping, watching television, even getting upset or starting an argument can distract us from the buzz. When later we look for causes of our existential angst, we blame it on external circumstances. We are always wrong. When mistakenly we believe there is an alternative to Love, the cause of our existential angst is our desire to be special and different.

What is the cure for the hangover of specialness? We look at the terrible price we pay for our specialness and we decide the price is no longer worth it. We no longer ask the world to provide something it can’t, namely, to be a substitute for Wholeness. Having emptied a space, Love rushes in to fill the void.

Introducing America’s Highest Purpose

This week I launched a new blog: America’s Highest Purpose: Liberty and Love Will Show the Way. I hope you can join me on this journey. Almost everyone I know is concerned about the state of the world and wants to do their part in making the world a better place. Many see more LoveContinue Reading

Airport Announcements

Last month, my daughter was concerned about having to take her final exams in organic chemistry and genetics back-to-back on the same day. Her thinking was psyching her out. Dad, she said, “I know it’s my ego, but the thoughts are very persistent.” I explained if you judge yourself for having the thoughts, resist theContinue Reading

This Moment, Now

On New Year’s Eve, I had an appointment with my ophthalmologist. From him I learned that my family physician, at the age of 67, had died suddenly and unexpectedly the day before. My ophthalmologist was shaken to the point of deciding to leave his own practice. We never know when our conversation with someone willContinue Reading

Purpose Quiets Our Thinking

The alarm clock rings no later than 5:00 a.m. on days we’re taking a long, challenging hike. For safety, we want to avoid coming off the trail after dark. The truth is that although I love hiking, complaining thoughts arise at 5:00 a.m: “Why not just stay home today, relax, and read a book? TheContinue Reading

Your Highest Purpose

“While those with a simple mind cling on to their actions and are concerned about the results, the wise man is free from all attachments. Not blinding himself by success nor suffering anxiety over his failure, he offers his actions in the fire of virtue.” Bhagavad Gita (translation, Fred Kofman) Our lives seem to beContinue Reading

Praying All the Time

“Whatever we cherish, whatever we hate, and whatever we fear are our gods, and we pray to them all the time.”—Thomas Hora Recently one of my leadership students, a pharmaceutical sales representative, asked for advice about an all-day sales meeting she would be leading. As I listened, she justified her expectation that this meeting wasContinue Reading

Ignorance and Honesty

Every day I face my ignorance. At some point almost every day after feeling a negative emotion, I falsely attribute my feelings and thinking to external circumstances. Honesty demands that I look at my false accusations and make another choice. If I am honest, my suffering is limited; if I am dishonest and believe myContinue Reading

Eternity in a Moment

In the delightful metaphysical romantic-comedy About Time, Domhnall Gleeson plays Tim, a young man who comes from a family whose male members have the ability to time travel. Initially, Tim uses time travel to alter events. Later in the movie Tim’s father, played by Bill Nighy, advises Tim to simply use time travel to reliveContinue Reading

Waiting For When

Comedic genius Harold Ramis passed on Monday. Ramis was involved as a writer, actor, or director in some of the most famous comedies ever made including Ghostbusters, Animal House, and Groundhog Day. While all of Ramis’ movies entertain, one, which he co-wrote and directed, Groundhog Day, stands out for me as great art; not onlyContinue Reading