‘Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond imagination. It is our light more than our darkness which scares us. We ask ourselves – who are we to be brilliant, beautiful, talented, and fabulous. But honestly, who are you to not be so?
Small games do not work in this world. For those around us to feel peace, it is not example to make ourselves small. We were born to express the glory that lives in us. It is not in some of us, it is in all of us. While we allow our light to shine, we unconsciously give permission for others to do the same. When we liberate ourselves from our own fears, simply our presence may liberate others.’
- Marianne Williamson in Return to Love: Reflections on a Course in Miracles
There are, it's said, three conceits. "I am better than you", "I am the same as you", and "I am nothing special/worse than you." These are, as the argument goes, all forms of ego, though one or two more subtle than the others. For this post, I'll focus on the last of the conceits only (otherwise, I'd be in danger of writing many more "endless paragraphs" than some can stomach).
Some forms of religion have always encouraged a sense of self-worthlessness, that we are no good, that we require saving and - to the extreme - that we are unworthy sinners from the second we breathe air to the moment we gasp our last. I can see the practical (though horrid) nature of encouraging such a thing: people who feel a lack of self-worth are far more likely to embrace dependency, surrender themselves, be unquestioning of their masters and generally give up any ownership of critical thinking - exactly the qualities some forms of religion thrive on in order to easily indoctrinate the parish and have them pay for the privilege.
However, the sense of "I'm nothing special" is, at best an attempt to seek attention or, in the worst case, a detrimental influence to anyone who hears the words said by someone who has achieved quite a lot. One might think, "Well, if THEY are 'nothing special', what hope do I have of achieving anything?!"
Attention seekers are easily spotted and of little danger. I have a friend who is an incredible painter. His work is applauded by most who see it, but of course, he will say, "Oh, it's nothing special." This makes way - predictably - for quick-fire replies of, "Oh, you mustn't say that! It's fabulous - such amazing creativity; to have your talent is a blessing!" And so the compliments pour on until he's drowning in praise. Clearly the chap is a gifted artist. He knows as much. Every gifted artist knows their own talent. Even if they do try to convince others otherwise.
The big danger, though, comes when people in position who have achieved enormous amounts say, "Oh, I'm nothing much, really - just a silly businessman" or whatever it is they do. Humility has it's place, but when others seek guidance from such people, such achievers, and all they hear is, "I'm nothing really", what sort of message does that send out? A man who builds a whole empire and achieves the impossible is not "nothing special". Such a man is incredibly special, and any attempt to play down achievements doesn't do anyone any favours at all.
Of course, no-one likes a bragger. There is a balance to be found. If, say, I was the student of the writer Stephen King or - had I been around then - of PG Wodehouse and after reading their works and being spellbound by them they were to say, "Oh that? Those are just words - I'm nothing special." I'd hardly feel encouraged. "Well, Mr King, " I might reply, "if what you have achieved is nothing special, what hope do I have to even write one page of quality?!"
In the simplest of terms, special people who say they are not are taking away from anyone who feels guided by them. And, on the most basic level, it's an untruth. If anyone has achieved greatly, they are someone special. Think of Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Albert Einstein or that bloke who invented the Playstation. These are special people. For anyone to say otherwise is simply absurd.
But again, there is a balance to be found. One mustn't be so conceited that one thinks there is no room for improvement, or that one is superior (one of the three conceits) to everyone else. This also causes problems. But to shirk away from knowing that we have potential or, in some cases, have fulfilled our potential, is just as absurd.
For me, there is nothing sadder - achiever or not - than to hear anyone say they are not special or "nothing much". Those who haven't yet achieved, I feel a genuine sadness, because they almost certainly have it in their heads that they will probably never achieve much. Those who have achieved greatly, I roll my eyes and usually let out a long sigh. If someone genuinely thinks little of themselves, that is their right, but to proclaim it to the world - especially those who are in reverence - does no good at all and, potentially, does much damage.
"I'm better than you" is problematic for obvious reasons. "I am the same as you" robs a person of individuality, which then restricts aspiration, creativity, ideas and progress. "I am nothing special" develops an unquestioning, entirely servile minds of non-achievers, which restricts all progress, and in achievers, such an absurd claim restricts inspiration and the self-confidence of others.
Whoever you are - non-achiever or otherwise - it is perhaps best to think of yourself as yourself, with the same potential for failure or success as everyone else. There is never going to be another "you" - not ever, and if that's not something incredibly special, worth infinitely more than any material possession or bank balance, then I'm not sure what is.