If I had a novel written for every time I’ve read the words “You are not a special snowflake” I’d have a catalog to rival Barbara Cartland’s. They’re used by agents, critics, and even my fellow authors. And every time I see these words, I am upset. Not for me, but for anyone who believes them.

You are too a special snowflake. We all are, every single individual in the universe.

Now, I’m not saying that you deserve to be treated better than everyone else. What I’m saying is that you deserve to be treated well, like you are something valuable, because everybody does. My problem with the insistence that no one is a special snowflake is that it is all too often used in the same manner as the advice to grow a thick skin, IE it is used to justify treating people like crap and to transfer the blame of any upset this causes to the victim.

The thing is, even if a speaker means no harm, it is both unfair and impractical to expect the target’s emotions to respond based on that intent. It is the speaker’s responsibility to communicate with respect, civility, and as much kindness as possible. This isn’t to say that one must never tell people things they don’t wish to hear, merely that one has a responsibility to do so in a way that minimizes harm.

When someone responds to being told they said or wrote something hurtful by insisting the target is thin-skinned or taking things too seriously, they are saying point blank that they themselves are blameless. Occasionally, they may be. But frequently we see this insistence coming from individuals who had to have known they were crossing a line, much like when a bully makes someone cry over a physical defect and asserts their target simply can’t take a joke. Odds are the bully was smart enough to realize the hazing would be distressing.

If you step on my foot, there are four main ways you can act afterward. You can pretend it never happened and ignore me hopping around on the other foot, you can tell me that’s what I get for not wearing steel-toed shoes, you can call me a baby for crying over a bruised foot, or you can apologize. I’d like to think most people would do the last one. Why should words be different?

Unfortunately, we live in a world where many people go around deliberately smashing other people’s feet and saying that since these victims are nothing special they don’t deserve to have their toes protected. What’s a poor sore-toed snowflake to do?

“Just ignore them” is a common tactic. Don’t engage, because that will just make things worse. I admit this is generally the approach I take, but I’ll also admit that sometimes I wonder if it’s really right.

One could also attack directly, but that really will worsen the conflict and probably won’t spare others from having their own toes stomped because the foot-stompers already know they’re upsetting people and don’t care.

Perhaps the best thing to do is to defend others. You don’t have to do that by attacking the people who attacked them, or even by addressing those people. Unless the attackers are young children or mentally deficient, they know they’re hurting people and probably don’t care how often strangers tell them they’re being uncool. You can defend the victims with direct encouragement, by offering support, by reminding them you believe in them, or, in the case of critics, by leaving your own reviews. Above all, make sure they know they’re valued.

I’m going to work on doing more of the last tactic and I’ll start here. You, my reader, are special to me. You are complex, unique, and worthy of my respect. You deserve to be treated well, because you are a special snowflake, and the fact that you are a tiny part of a huge blizzard does not give anyone the right to dismiss you or your feelings.

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