Illustration by Megan Eloise/The Gazelle

Not So Special Snowflakes

Congratulations! You receive your acceptance letter to NYU Abu Dhabi, and the tingling emotions created by the flapping butterfly wings in your stomach ...

Nov 21, 2015

Illustration by Megan Eloise/The Gazelle
Congratulations! You receive your acceptance letter to NYU Abu Dhabi, and the tingling emotions created by the flapping butterfly wings in your stomach propel you into an ecstatic feeling of accomplishment and self gratification.
Congratulations! You arrived on campus, only to receive countless speeches of praise all promising that you are here for a reason, you are here to continue your feats of greatness. You are here because you are special. Everyone here, undoubtedly, deserves their spot. Still, the question of what makes you so special remains.
At the age of 16, I switched from the European educational system into the U.S. American one. The most noticeable difference between the two was the sense of self-worth that each assigned to its students. The European system has a more distanced, historical and colder approach to academics and discussions. The U.S. American system focuses on contemporary debates, rarely examining who was a prominent speaker before.
In the U.S. American classroom, everyone has an opinion and everyone is encouraged to share it. In my experience of the system, opinions took a far greater share of any discussion than I had previously witnessed, and I became fully engaged in my classes. The only problem was that some of the opinions were less factually grounded and more personal. Consequently, this gave less room to maneuver when it came to a productive discussion. Arguing with facts levels the plane for every orator, while arguing with opinions is like a broken pencil: pointless.
Nonetheless, what this encouragement installed in all of my peers, including myself, was a general sense of self-worth. The attribution of specialness to individual arguments was based not on their veracity but on the fact that they were special. Thus, while our student body diverges in many aspects, what we all seem to share is the value we attribute to our own opinions.
Coming to NYUAD, a sense of accomplishment is inevitable. After all, we are told we are special by people who we hold in high esteem. Suddenly we have a significant proportion of the student body roaming the campus and repeating the mantra, perhaps subconsciously, “I am special.” Consequently, we judge everything in our path based exclusively on our specific opinion of what constitutes being special.
The initial thrill of specialness is short lived; it diminishes the proactivity of each individual. Take any campus wide conundrum or situation in which the student body participates as a collective, such as dining, the Core curriculum or the naming of the falcon. A generally shared trait seems to be that the majority of our student body enjoys acting ex post facto. An even more general trait pervasive throughout these instances is that the majority of students want to contribute their opinions more than their actions.
The way these situations unravel is repetitive: the student body becomes inflamed until it exhausts all of the readily available opinions, after which a select few, fueled by these opinions, may or may not reach out with the aim of ameliorating the situation in a process that usually takes longer than necessary. This consequently results in lobbying for action for or against the solution. The trick is that the majority of our student body simply feels accomplished or active because they shared their invaluable opinion. Hence, the majority of our seldom proactive marches quickly die out only to surface later in the form of frustration. These repetitive outcomes can be, but are not exclusively, the byproduct of an ingrained sense of specialness.
The feeling of specialness not only inhibits our proactive behavior, but it also creates a hypothetical norm in everyone’s mind, consequently hindering community building. The definition of special is as diverse as the community we have been brought to. Hearing that everyone is special acts to a great extent as a guarantee that everyone is going to be like you. While our community recognizes the extensive resources it fosters, what we seem to overlook is that nothing comes out of these resources alone. The walls of our campus appear to have a much tighter grip not only on our physical isolation, but also on our perspectives.
One of the great natural limitations of NYUAD is that it has yet to acquire a history of success. While we are on our way, the lack of proactivity and perspective seems to be leading us in the wrong direction. Although we have established and developed numerous inward channels for dealing with internal matters of the student body — and the effectiveness of these is still in question — we have only started grasping and working on the possibilities we have outside of our community, more specifically outside of our campus.
In the wise words of Chuck Palahniuk: “You are not special. You're not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You're the same decaying organic matter as everything else. We're all part of the same compost heap. We're all singing, all dancing crap of the world.”
We should start thinking as such, and realize that our exceptionalist attitude makes us much less exceptional.
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