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Thursday, August 02, 2007

The importance of being special

If I had to compile a list of the secrets people never share with even their closest friends/confidants, the first item on the list would be the deeply held belief that we are each absolutely special.

As children we look out at the world through unique, special eyes and consider the world as revolving around us.  Then, at some point in our childhood there comes a Copernican epiphany and we realize that, rather than the universe revolving around us... we are just one of many bodies in a vast and complicated system whose center lies... elsewhere.

However, even after outgrowing this stage of complete self-absorption, most of us continue to harbor a small secret belief that we are special... a specialness that sets us apart from everyone we have ever known.  This feeling of specialness is why people take compliments with such aplomb... and why criticism, insults and perhaps worst; indifference, rock us to our very core.

It is why teenagers act as if they are immortal... invulnerable.  It is why we are relatively unsurprised when we hear of sickness or death touching others... and also why it seems incomprehensible when serious illness, injury or death present themselves at our own doorstep.

So much of our interaction with the world is predicated on this secret assumption of specialness, that we have built most of our social rituals around balancing the need to allow others to bask in the glow of our Sun and not wanting to 'burn' anyone with what can only be described as conceit.

Pretty much anyone I have ever spoken with who has contracted a life-threatening illness or been in a near fatal accident, has always expressed dismay that it had happened to them.  The unspoken sub-text to that sentiment is 'What was G-d thinking? You don't kill off the main character in the story.  Sickness and death are what happen to bit players... supporting characters... other people!'

When I think back on the highest points in my life, I recall the times when my apparent specialness has been affirmed by people and/or events such receiving special recognition, awards, birthday parties, engagement, my wedding, arriving in Israel, etc. 

But there have also been plenty of less momentous (but equally memorable) events that have reinforced that secret feeling of being special. 

These have been the countless conversations I've had with people over the years where they have made me feel that I am the most interesting person they have ever met.  It is only now at middle age that I realize that what is truly special is a person's ability to extend themselves across interpersonal space and make someone else feel like the center of the universe.

It is only when speaking with a less-well-mannered (or perhaps more self-absorbed) person that one realizes that this ability to make someone standing across from you feel absolutely special and unique is - in and of itself - fairly special and unique.

A couple of weeks ago I got an email from a woman named Daphne who, aside from being a self-professed treppenwitz reader, also happens to be president of a political advertising firm in the US called MAXFilms.  The gist of her email was that she wanted to know if I'd like to be interviewed for a film her company was making about people in the 'new Israeli right'. 

As if such an invitation wouldn't be enough, she sent me a list of people - most of whom would be instantly recognized by anyone who follows the news in Israel - who would also be interviewed for the film.

If it had ended there, just having someone write to tell me they liked my blog... and telling me that they thought I belonged on short list alongside a bunch of household names, would have been quite enough to make me feel unbelievably special. 

But it didn't end there.

A few exchanged emails revealed that:

a)  it wasn't a hoax (yes, I initially thought it might be a prank)

b) the political advertising firm is quite accomplished and has an extensive resume of issue-driven support for various US political campaigns.

c) the film project about which I'd been approached was actually going to take place... in Jerusalem.

Pinch me!

On the appointed day I arrived at a sound-stage near The Jerusalem Theater and walked up to the security guard at the door feeling like a total impostor.  He asked me my name, and upon hearing my response, someone behind him said "Oh great, you're here!  Come on in and go straight into make-up."

I should mention at this point that I have never had anyone make up my face.  As I tipped back in the make-up chair, a young woman began applying creams and powders all over my face and neck. Considering how long she fussed over my face and the amount of make-up she seemed to have used, I expected to end up looking like Pagliacci !

While the make-up woman continued to smudge, swab and pat, other people wandered into the room to offer me cold drinks and snacks.

To paraphrase 'dayeinu' from the Passover seder, if it had all ended there with someone rushing in with a clipboard screaming "who the hell is this?  That's not who we wanted!", it would have still been enough. 

Among the many things I think everyone should experience at least once in their lives... being singled out for back-stage celeb treatment is very high on the list.

When my make-up was finally finished, I was ushered to some theater-style seats just outside the door to the sound-stage and again asked if I needed anything... food, drink?  I declined politely and sat reading the latest Harry Potter and wondering what the hell I would have to say when I was finally invited inside.

After a short wait, Daphne and her husband Michael (they are partners in running the ad firm), came out of the sound stage and greeted me like a long lost relative.  They asked my a few questions that instantly put me at ease... and proved beyond all doubt that they were long-time treppenwitz readers.  They asked after Zahava, the kids (by name),the bees... and even about our black lab-mix, Jordan.

But then again, I shouldn't have been surprised that they remembered to ask about Jordan seeing as they have pics of their beloved vizslas, Koby and Zeke on their website.

I instantly knew that regardless of how the interview on the sound-stage went, that this would be a truly memorable experience... one to add to the list of 'things in my life that made me feel special'. 

The interview itself (conducted by Michale) was bit of a blur, not because I was nervous or distracted... but because Michael's interview style was so genuine and personable.  Although we had never met before, he made me feel as though I was the most interesting person on the planet.

After the interview had concluded, I hung around for a bit and chatted with Daphne and Michael.  Again, even without the cameras and lights, I felt like I was still center stage... talking with a couple of old friends who cared deeply about me. 

Special, special, special!

I suspect that the secret to continued contentment in this world is being able to experience such moments of 'specialness' on a fairly regular basis.  Whether chatting with someone at work... over a shabbat table or in just about any social setting... I realize that such focused attention is a priceless commodity we can give each other.   Certainly, if we get too much of it, we risk succumbing to narcissism.  But if deprived for too long of such attention and pampering, our very soul must wither and become sad from neglect.

Thank you Daphne and Michael for giving me a wonderful dose of your friendship and attention.  You are both very special people.

[Note:  When I get over myself, I have a follow-up post about the film project to share.]

Posted by David Bogner on August 2, 2007 | Permalink


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Great post, Dave. And you made ME feel special this morning when you called me! Thanks.

Posted by: val | Aug 2, 2007 4:26:46 PM

I expected to end up looking like Pagliacci !

Great line! You are absolutely right about the importance of feeling special and needed.

It is part of what helps to keep us connected to others.

Posted by: Jack | Aug 2, 2007 6:38:17 PM

Mazel Tov, Dave!


Posted by: Maksim-Smelchak | Aug 2, 2007 7:47:38 PM

You're brave!
Will we see the finished product somewhere on the internet? Soonish? :)

Posted by: a. | Aug 2, 2007 7:54:07 PM

I hope that as regular readers, they are highly intelligent and sympathetic, and didn't do a Frost/Nixon on you.

Posted by: Barzilai | Aug 2, 2007 7:55:10 PM

Sounds like fun. I loved the Pagliacci line. It's funny, I just put together a dvar torah for this shabbos that actually talks about the "little things" like making someone feel special and knowing that you care. Very timely post.

Posted by: AnnieD | Aug 2, 2007 8:16:32 PM


Posted by: miss Worldwide | Aug 2, 2007 8:50:36 PM

About two thirds of the way through Good as Gold, Joseph Heller has the protagonist, Bruce Gold, who has confronted a lot of famous Washington people on a commission, with titles like Governer, Ambassador, etc. come to the conclusion that everyone should serve ina n important job for a little while, so that they can goo through life being called Senator, Ambassador, or Governer, instead of Sid, Ida, Irv or Milt.

Posted by: Jordan Hirsch | Aug 3, 2007 5:37:27 PM

On the same note, I was talking to a friend about a year and a half ago, and I admitted, almost shamefully, "You know, I always thought I was really special. Different from everybody else in some important ways."
She replied, "yeah, I think deep down most people think, 'Wow, I am totally awesome.' "
Without even realizing the irony of it all, I said, "No, I mean really special, different from other people."
I think I still feel that way. I think it's a healthy thing, but it makes me wonder sometimes how true it actually is.

Posted by: ilan | Aug 5, 2007 11:28:53 AM

I am happy that you are getting the recognition you deserve for all the hard work you put into your blog. It is a pleasure reading about your life in Israel, and nobody writes it like you do.

Posted by: Dina | Aug 7, 2007 11:26:54 AM

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