‘Special snowflake’ is a term I particularly hate. It’s used to designate a person who is felt to be making a fuss or wanting special treatment in some way – because it is to be understood that not fitting in with what’s offered makes you an object of ridicule. I find this unacceptable in so many ways.
Firstly there’s a power imbalance here. The person who has expressed a need for things to be different, and the person who uses the term ‘special snowflake’ as a way of not honouring that need for difference, are on a totally different footing. The person asking, needs. The person knocking them back, has the power to do so.
Why are they asking? There could be all manner of physical pain and disability issues in the mix – these are not all self announcing. There could be issues of mental health or trauma. Again, these are not discernible to the casual glance. Even at their most annoying and least justified, people who ask to be treated differently may well be feeling vulnerable, fragile and uncertain for all kinds of reasons – they may be new to this, scared, insecure, and at this stage a few kind words and pointers make worlds of difference. Knocking them back may teach them to shut up and stop inconveniencing you, but it doesn’t solve anything.
There are a great many things that can cause a person challenges. More than any of us could hope to know. These are not all things we want to discuss with relative strangers. If you have a bowel disease, or a recent bereavement, a cancer scare, a heart condition, a nightmare at work, a panic attack… all these and more are not things you are necessarily going to feel easy about discussing in order to establish why it is that you need something to change. And how incredibly rude and inconsiderate it is to pressure a person into disclosing the nature of their vulnerability before you will take them seriously and help them!
Failure to conform to the standards of normality set by someone else should not be a reason to negate anyone as a special snowflake. Yes, it may be inconvenient to change things to accommodate people. Yes, other people’s issues can be perplexing. When we start from wanting to take care of each other and make things work, the outcomes are very different from when we wilfully put down anyone who doesn’t fit with our preconceived, self-serving ideas of what is allowed and what isn’t.
We have a culture that still feels put out if those who have relative power and ease are asked to flex a bit to make more room for people who lack those things. ‘Special snowflake’ is a manifestation of this, and it assumes you can look at a person from the outside and form a reasonable opinion about whether their issues are real and whether they deserve taking seriously. There’s an arrogance, and a lack of compassion at play any time this term is used, also a use of power and control. It silences people who need help, reinforces very restrictive notions of ‘normality’, and it excludes and humiliates those who are labelled this way. We all have times in our lives when we need to be treated with care, and no one should be shamed for asking for things to be different.