You Think You’re Unique?

There’s a scene in The Unit — one of my favourite TV series of all time — where one of the unit members asks another: you think you’re unique?

In that scene, Jonas asks Bob about what’s been bothering him, after Bob makes a mistake that almost compromises a mission and forces them to take up alternate sniper positions. Bob replies that he’s been struggling with the difference between the pre-meditated killing as part of his role as a member of an elite special forces unit, and how that differs to murder carried out by an individual operating on his own.

There are differences, of course, as explained to Bob in an earlier scene where he visits a military chaplain and asks about the concept of “just war”. Bob questions when the taking of life is justified, or if it’s ever necessary, but the chaplain tells him that there are always justifications for taking a life. Bob claims there are some who say that the taking of life is never justified, and the chaplain’s response is that those people employ others to protect them so they will never have to face that choice.

As they discuss the issue, Jonas wonders how long Bob’s been thinking about it, then says Bob will just have to work it out, just like everybody else. Bob questions the “everybody else” part, to which Jonas replies: “you think you’re unique? Happens to everyone. What surprises me is what took you so long.”

You think you’re unique?

I think about that a lot.

I might not be in one of the world’s most elite military special forces, but I think about it a lot. Every time I have some reason to lament my own existence, whatever harrowing circumstance I find myself in, or question my recent decision making, I wonder how many other people have ever been in the same situation I am now.

I can’t be the only one, right?

I mean, there’s no way someone else hasn’t gone though the same stuff I have. There’s got to be at least of handful of people who have had their parents split up, tens of people who have said the wrong thing at the wrong time, hundreds who have made mistakes at work, and thousands who have made the best laid plans, only to have some tiny detail throw a spanner in the works. I refuse to believe that I’m the only one that agonises over long-term decisions, is kept up at night by all the things I’ve regretted doing (or not doing, as the case may be), or continues to overthink things, despite knowing that life’s too short and you only live once.

Every time I dread going to work1, I find solace in the fact that there are plenty of other people who are in the same boat. Every time I wonder how much longer I can tolerate the scorching heat and humidity of Brisbane, I realise that I’m not alone. And every time I question what I want to do with my life, I think to myself: there’s no way that I’m the only one. Sure, there might not be someone in my specific circumstances, but there’s just no way that someone else hasn’t thought about all of this before. Statistically speaking, it’s just not possible.

It’s a little depressing, if you think about it.

If none of this is unique or in any way special, and all of this has been said and done countless times before, what’s the point in doing any of it? But by the same token — if it’s all been done before — who says I can’t do it better? Surely that’s been done before too, so why shouldn’t I try to do it to the best of my ability? If someone has made a fool of themselves, failed miserably when it mattered the most, or missed out on the opportunity of a lifetime, there has to be equally as many that have been hailed the hero. Just as many that have succeeded against all odds, and plenty more that saw a chance, took it, and are now living out their wildest fantasies. Why can’t that be me?

It’s humbling, in a way. Because no one is unique, I can’t fail harder than anyone has ever failed before. Not for a lack of trying on my part, but that it’s statistically impossible that I can screw up harder than someone, somewhere, has ever screwed up before, with further-reaching consequences that I will ever face. To think that there are people who have lost more Dota 2 games than I will ever play (or win) is extremely liberating, provided I remember after this fact after every devastating loss.

And like I’ve been saying, the flip side means the sky’s the limit when it comes to what I can accomplish and get done, because, once again, it’s all been done before. Not by me, sure. But by someone.

So, do you feel like you’re unique? I hate to break it to you, but you’re not. Or at least, not as unique as you might think.

I suspect that’s what it means to be normal.

Not that I’d know anything about that.

  1. I consider myself incredibly fortunate that I don’t dread going to work (most days). But like everyone else, there are times when I think that I could be doing something very different with my life, instead of making the trek from my apartment door to the lift on my floor for yet another day of corporate slavery. 

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