The need to be special is ruining people.
A 2016 study found a disturbing correlation: The more people wish to be perceived as unique, the more likely they are to believe conspiracy theories. This mindset is not based on where they are on political or ideological spectrums. More importantly, it has nothing to do with any measure of intelligence.
Even the authors didn’t foresee some of the more harrowing results of the study. They created a completely fictional conspiracy theory (smoke detectors produce hypersounds that cause severe side effects). After the test was completed, the respondents were debriefed and told the article was written only for the study, and that there is no controversy about hypersounds from smoke detectors.
Surprisingly, 25% of the respondents did not believe the debriefing and held fast to the smoke detector theory. The need to be unique resulted in people believing in something that was made up to test whether they needed to feel unique by believing in conspiracy theories. It’s like the movie “Inception,” but with smoke detectors.
“Being special” comes in two varieties. Being special in the sense of “standing out from the crowd” is awarded to very few people. Malala Yousafzai is this type of special. So are Bruce Springsteen, Colson Whitehead, Usain Bolt, and Jane Goodall.
Importantly, these people have no control over whether the world thinks they’re special. They don’t decide that they’re special. We decide they are.
However, we do have control over the second variety of special: Being special to just somebody. This happens when we choose to be present with and fully invest in those in front of us. When I’m co-creating a special moment with a group of people, or somebody, I don’t feel a need to prove myself to the world at large.
My hope is that people who have fallen down conspiracy holes can get themselves out by redefining what it is to be special, and choosing to find that second variety. You don’t have to be considered special by everybody. One person is enough.