Monday, March 1, 2010

Should Everyone Be “Special”?

One of my favorite films in recent years is Disney Pixar’s The Incredibles. The movie tells the story of a family of “Supers” (heroes), who have gone into hiding to escape public scrutiny for tort claims arising out of saving people who “did not want to be saved.” (An interesting thought itself.)

My particular interest in the film centers on the antagonist of the story. A self-declared/self-made “Super” named Syndrome. Syndrome was born without super powers, yet he was driven to become a Super anyway. As a child, his obsession with the Supers led him to attempt to help the protagonist, Mr. Incredible, catch a villain. The results were disastrous. The young Syndrome appeared on the scene as “Incredi-boy,” complete with his own outfit and technology that made up for his lack of innate super powers. Because of his interference, the villain they were after got away, and Mr. Incredible sent the young would-be helper packing. Years later, this child grew to be a bitter and determined man who was driven to perfect his technological aids with one purpose. His aspiration was to destroy all true Supers and sell his products to the masses, “so that when everyone is special, no one is.”

This scene, to me, is a key moment in the film. Syndrome is proclaiming his indictment of outcome-based measures of performance. He fails to recognize his own unique talent and giftedness with technology, and instead focuses only on what he is not – innately “Super.” His desire to strip the world of all who have such gifting and replace it with his form of power is problematic for an obvious reason. People who do have such a unique set of talents should not be punished. A theme throughout the film is the depression the Supers experience as a result of suppressing who they truly are. Less obvious, though, is the somewhat ironic problem brought about by Syndrome's plan. His desire to equalize the population (everyone will be Super, therefore no one will be) actually works to diminish his own gifting. He is, in effect, saying that there is only one way to be special. Being Super, whether by nature or machine, is his only metric for success.

The fact is that we are all uniquely gifted in some way. His own talents are evident when one considers the vast island kingdom he has managed to establish through his ingenuity. Instead of seeing himself as uniquely talented, he only sees what he is not. Comparing ourselves to others and wondering why we aren’t this or that doesn’t help us become our best, it only discourages us that we are not like another. I suppose my thought-kernel for the afternoon is to focus less on what I am not and more on what I am.

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