How Are You Special?

On the PBS show Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, host Fred Rogers regularly looked into the camera and spoke directly to the viewer. “You are special,” he would affirm.

This was a powerful message to the audience of children, who were most likely not used to hearing such a thing from an adult, particularly one on television.

The underlying idea, that each individual is special and important, is also useful for adults. Too often, it is easy to be a cog in a machine at work, or overwhelmed as a spouse or as a parent at home. Sometimes, we need a simple reminder of our own specialness.

Give it some thought. What can you do better than anything else? What sets you apart from those around you? In what ways are you important? How are you special?

Related questions: Why do we care what strangers think of us? Why do we feel the need to belong? What makes you you? How can we build confidence? Why is love important?

What Do You Get Out Of Social Media?

The Internet plays an important role in our everyday lives. We use it for work, for pleasure, for communication, and for collaboration. Dominating the Internet are social media giants that facilitate building online communities, like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. If you are reading these words, chances are pretty good that you use at least one such website or app.

A lot of research goes in to designing the various social media platforms to encourage their use. As a result, we spend hours and hours scrolling though shared posts, tweets, pictures, and videos.

The negative aspects of these platforms can vary from obvious to obscure. Time spent using them is time not spent doing other things, which in theory could be more productive: reading, interacting directly with friends and neighbors, taking classes, engaging in a hobby. Interaction with short bits of information fractures our attention span and makes it harder to concentrate. Leaked personal information has been used to manipulate individuals without their knowledge or consent.

Social media can contribute positively as well. We use it to get a job, make romantic connections, keep up with friends or family that live far away, and to build communities that share specialized interests.

Evaluating these pros and cons is important for everyone to do. What are some of the other advantages and drawbacks of social media? Do the pros outweigh the cons?

It is easy to see why social media companies exist. People love to interact with each other, and the digital world is another place for that interaction. A successful social media app or platform can be very popular, lucrative, and influential. The companies want your attention, and once they have it they can use that collective attention for their own goals or purposes, like selling goods and services.

But what benefits do individuals get from using them? What do you get out of social media?

Related questions: How does your vocabulary influence how you think? Why do we feel the need to belong? How do you know who to trust? What makes a community? What is social media?

How Do You Think Others See You?

When I turned 30, I asked my friends to provide a one word description of my best feature or my most prominent characteristic. I was curious about what they appreciated about my personality and the way I acted. While I considered myself fairly self-aware, I wanted to know if my friends saw me the same way I saw myself.

Before I started to get responses, I expected that the answers would fall into two or three broad categories. In my own mind, I was smart, I was funny, and I was friendly.

Once the answers started to roll in, however, I was surprised. In all, I asked maybe 30 people, and I got 30 different answers. While I didn’t expect that every response would be different, the thing that really astonished me was the wide variety of answers. Loyalty, eyes, conversation, creativity, honesty, goofiness. They did not easily fit into the categories I envisioned.

Different people value different things. It took me 30 years to learn this lesson, but it was a major step in expanding my empathy skills. Now I regularly try to view how other people might see the world, including how I fit into it.

I also learned something else from this exercise: every relationship I have is unique. While I might be a constant to my relationships, each person I interact with brings their own personality, their own experiences, their own vantage point to our mutual association.

Which brings me to this week’s question: How do you think others see you? How would you like them to see you? What can you do to change how others see you? Are you externally self-aware?

Related questions: What are our responsibilities to others? What do we have in common? What makes you you? How do you judge yourself?