Mead Baffles Man, Kids At Stake
June 15, 2013 8:06 PM   Subscribe

My kids' elementary school uses this Margaret Mead quotation on a banner in their Independence Day float, and every year it bugs the heck out out of me: "Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else." Without any context, I struggle to understand the tone of these two sentences. Is this a heartwarming celebration of individuality? Or is this some kind of snarky put-down of same? If it's the latter, what kind of misbegotten school am I sending my kids to?
posted by baseballpajamas to Writing & Language (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe a little of both? A reminder to each kid that not only do they have their own individual traits worthy of esteem, but that all the other kids have their own unique skills that are worthy of respect as well. In essence, "you're awesome, and so is everyone else, so treat everyone well."
posted by amelioration at 8:10 PM on June 15, 2013 [20 favorites]

I can see why this would bug you. I think it's kind of a little bit more of a thinker than one might want.

It just means you're really really special, and the person next to you is special too.

I think it comes across a little passive aggressive, but I think it's intended as a gentle sentiment of our individual blessed uniqueness and an attendant desire to implore us to also remember that others, too, are unique.

I'd find it a head scratcher of a quote as well, and somehow unsatisfying, but I think that's what is meant.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 8:10 PM on June 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you take the sense of “just like” to be “in the same way as”, it's much clearer.
posted by scruss at 8:14 PM on June 15, 2013

Seeing it as Margaret Mead was a cultural anthropologist, I read it that yes, we are unique and should express ourselves creatively, but despite our uniqueness, we do have commonalities that bind us together and help us function as a society.
And you can have both - life is made up of both.
Sure, wear your purple glitter mohawk to the park - just don't do it naked*.

*however, if being naked is a permissible cultural norm wherever you are, then go for it!
posted by NoraCharles at 8:19 PM on June 15, 2013

For what it's worth, Margaret Mead never said it (see "Misattributed") and personally I've only ever heard it in the snarky bumper-sticker sense..
posted by theodolite at 8:21 PM on June 15, 2013 [16 favorites]

Each person is unique, as is their DNA and finger print...I am not totally in agreement with this--we are also types, but that is what I think the quote means.
posted by Postroad at 8:27 PM on June 15, 2013

Any elementary school attempting to quote Margaret Mead is OK in my book.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 8:56 PM on June 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

I don't think it's snarky, and it's not really heartwarming, either. I see it more as a little dose of reality, maybe? I read it like "Hey, everybody is a special snowflake." So, it's not like only you are unique and precious in the world while everyone else made by cookie-cutter. Your specialness doesn't make other people less special is maybe another way to say it. Or, honour and enjoy your totally unique perspective on the world, and be sure to honour and enjoy others' as well.
posted by looli at 9:07 PM on June 15, 2013

Yeah, I've only ever seen this as a snarky bumper sticker or t-shirt.
posted by MexicanYenta at 9:49 PM on June 15, 2013

Seems a bit sonderiffic.
posted by Jacqueline at 12:31 AM on June 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

Yeah, she didn't say it, and I've only ever seen it as a Demotivator. (With picture of snowflake, natch.) Can you say anything to the school about it?
posted by clerestory at 12:54 AM on June 16, 2013

Can't believe a school would use it with any but an affirming, positive reading.

Why not point out the issue to them in a gentle non-critical kind of way and maybe suggest something less ambiguous they could use on the banner?
posted by Segundus at 2:24 AM on June 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

I read it like, "There is nobody in the world just like you, and the same is true for every single person in the world." It's a reminder to appreciate your distinctiveness, while also appreciating that everybody else is distinct too. Sort of celebrating the self, while also putting yourself in context. Whoever really said it, I think it's kind of beautiful. You ARE something special, but don't let it go to your head.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 2:29 AM on June 16, 2013 [5 favorites]

I read this as "you're not special, so get over yourself", and I've also only seen it on snippy bumper stickers.
posted by windykites at 6:26 AM on June 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

I mean... it's an elementary school? They're clearly not being sarcastic!

Their obvious intention—and I agree that it's not entirely legible— is obviously two part:

1. To tell kids that they're special.

2. To tell kids to be empathetic and respect difference, because the other students are special too.

I mean, fine. That being said, they should be bulldozed for being snookered by a fake quote, and they should come up with something more readable. That's the real crime here: that these are educators who are too lazy to check Wikipedia.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 8:25 AM on June 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'm not sure a crime has been committed, except against the unspoken dictum that parade floats should not be ambiguous.

The banner itself is probably about the same age as Wikipedia, and I don't think the school has instituted an "annual-recheck of quotation attribution" policy yet. Nonetheless, the fact that some people might be ready to bulldoze the school over this issue will be helpful when I talk to them about it (and point them to this thread).

Thanks, all! Sonderiffic indeed.
posted by baseballpajamas at 8:43 AM on June 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've always taken it to mean that there's value in being humble.
posted by humboldt32 at 10:48 AM on June 16, 2013

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