Unique, Not Special

March 20, 2014 3 Comments
faces in the crowd

Photo by Big Mind Zen Center

One of the roles that I’ve found to be particularly helpful in coaching collaborative initiatives and groups over the long-term is to help people understand that as a collective, they are unique.  That is, like every living being, each group has its own distinct qualities and personality and for groups who have not worked together before, part of the early work is getting a better sense of who we are together and how we want to be together.  We cannot simply assume that what worked with one collaborative will work with another.  We have to honor history and other contextual factors as well as work to find was is real and essential about this living system.

While I like emphasizing uniqueness, I also like to point out that uniqueness does not make us special.  I don’t mean any disrespect with this statement, but rather try to release people from the unrealistic expectation that they will steer clear of conflict, uncertainty, and profound moments of doubt. In that regard, we are all alike.  Normalizing some of the bumps along the way is not meant to avoid difficult conversations, but to keep people from going into the unhelpful territory of “What’s wrong with us!?” which can also take a turn into blame and finger pointing.


  • Cynthia Silva Parker says:

    Yes! And one more way to think about the “not special” part. I think Xav de Souza Briggs coined the term “particular parochialism” to describe the belief that every community and every collaborative venture is so unique and special that little to nothing from others’ experiences can be useful to anyone else. While our work does need to take into account the particularities of place, history, culture and more, I think it’s dangerous to imagine that any of us is doing something so unique that we have to starat from a completely blank slate.

  • Cynthia Silva Parker says:

    Yes and no. More like “It’s ok not to reinvent the wheel; see what you can learn from others and adapt rather than saying ‘what worked in their town could never work in ours’; avoid believing that your experience is so unique that no one else’s experience can teach you anything.”

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