Snowflakes. We hear this term constantly applied to anyone who complains. It seems to have originated from the movie “Fight Club” with the quote “You are not special. You’re not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You’re the same decaying organic matter as everyone else.”
Harsh. Though sometimes taking an entitled person down a few notches feels rewarding, the response is so frequently applied it now seems anyone who expresses discontent gets the moniker. It makes me wonder how we reconcile the advocacy to stop bullying with the ridicule we swiftly apply to anyone who expresses emotional injury or sensitivity.
I have experienced it on a small scale when I have advocated for employees who, because they were introverts, were deemed by upper management to be inferior in the performance of their jobs. They don’t speak up enough, they don’t lead as desired, they don’t contribute enough in meetings, they don’t present well, they don’t leave a good impression…and the list goes on.
I learned the hard way that advocating for their uniqueness and offers of coaching – even as the corporation was lobbying us to “bring our authentic selves” to work – was a losing proposition. It only made me appear “soft” to my leadership, as well. Advocacy was definitely not rewarded; eventually it created an environment where perceived weaknesses and stress were hidden from sight. No one would dare say they were overworked, spread thin or in need of a mental health day. They would never decline a new assignment but would struggle to juggle because no one wanted to be snowflakes.
I’ve been noticing the parallels on the national scale as well. In fact, the term “snowflake” first seemed to be applied to liberals who weren’t perceived as “tough enough” or were overly sensitive to the use of “politically-correct” language and special causes, like LGBT issues or the “Me too” movement. It became common place for opponents to bring the conversation down to the absurd extreme – like a future of living in a genderless society, legal marriages with pets or signing waivers before going on a date. The absurd conclusions combined with other mockery have become a routine part of the ridiculing process.
Likewise, as the MAGA movement gathered steam, there seemed little receptivity to promoting the needs of the most vulnerable – such as immigrants and asylum seekers, the working poor or others who are not perceived to be as strong and independent as “traditional” Americans. Compassion was replaced with a “boot strap” mentality that offered little sympathy to people who found themselves in a tough spot. A lot of Americans seemed at the breaking point and apparently the last straw was broken. It became all about “the rule of law” being applied to people who “were not like us” while seemingly hunkering down in self-defense.
Now we even have the British Royalty subjected to ridicule for their inability to thrive amidst constant public scorning. We have not evolved to be inherently caring people and societies. There seems at the root of our name-calling, compassionless responses a sense of something being sacrificed: our taxes, our reputation, our rightness, our way of life.
It is a lack of kindness and empathy that permeates many of our professional and certainly our political encounters. For our professional brands it leaves the stench of hypocrisy in the air between our “inclusiveness” statements in print and presentations and our intolerance for the wrong type of personality traits. For our country, it allows for name-calling amongst fellow citizens – at least online – which marginalized any anti-bullying efforts. For the UK, it endorses the “stiff upper lip” mentality that encourages people to stuff their emotions rather than expect any understanding or support for their honesty.
Ultimately, the attitude communicates that we are not interested in knowing the struggles of others and we are certainly not onboard with anything that smacks of providing aid. We increasingly ridicule those who express unhappiness with the status quo as “special snowflakes” who need to grow up. Ironically, those who live with adversity, struggles and a lifetime of swimming against the tide are probably the toughest among us. But that is how name-calling and bullying works. You artificially create the standard and belittle those you’ve determine don’t fit it.
There is no objective attempt to discern how anyone actually qualifies for the negative titles bestowed upon them. Some of the best, most detailed work I ever oversaw was performed by people who hated calling attention to themselves. One of the most introverted persons I knew was a highly successful sale representative and business leader. Not everyone understood his style but his planning and decision-making skills more than compensated for his lack of extroversion. Being withdrawn or occasionally overwhelmed by life does not make you a bad person or employee. It just means you’re uniquely human and to be truly open and authentic, those moments will find their way into the workplace.
I believe this trend started on a personal level and it was eventually harnessed and exploited to become a part of our national culture. I also believe we can stop it on a personal level and defuel it. A great place to start is in the workplace. Next time you pull out your “All In” diversity pin, expand your thinking . Include the person struggling with OCD, the extreme introvert, the guy with the odd sense of humor, the employee on the autism spectrum, the people who celebrate holidays you may not, the single parents who can’t easily manage scheduling changes…
And if those employees have the guts or the necessity to identify their struggles with how your organization operates – don’t put them on the fast track to nowhere while you mentally categorize them as non-committed snowflakes. Stretch yourself to recognize when you opt for supporting mental health and true diversity, you are choosing a far more productive workplace and eventually a more compassionate world.