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Although we all have an intuitive feeling for specialness and ordinariness, they are not easy to define. Specialness—as I am using the word—is not merely “extraordinary” or “better than most.” Nor is ordinariness just “what is common.”

Specialness is often confused with extraordinariness. Some people are extraordinary. They are talented, famous, beautiful, or accomplished, in ways others are not. Often they are mistakenly thought of as special. Maybe they can even convince themselves they are special—some of the time.

No amount of talent, fame, beauty, or accomplishment can make you feel consistently special, though. Extraordinary people feel ordinary much of the time. That can be highly disappointing. It is not possible to become special through our own actions, by doing something extraordinary.

The problem is that extraordinariness never manages to escape into the transcendent. People vary as to how strong or clever they are—but that is just something that happens, as a matter of ordinary variation. And talent, fame, beauty, and accomplishment fade—whereas it seems specialness should be eternal.

So what is specialness, then? A special person is singled out, from birth, for a particular role in the cosmic plan. Their life-course is laid out in the plan in a special way, giving it a special meaning and value. That does not depend on any objective, personal characteristics—although we might mistake those as evidence of specialness.

Since there is no cosmic plan to choose special people, there are no special people. It is actually impossible for anyone to be special.

That might be depressing, if the only alternative to being special was to be ordinary. Luckily, there are other possibilities.