US: Exceptional but not The Exception


Photo by Lydia Bear Ishmael

“We may be exceptional, but we are not exceptions.”

This above insight was shared with me recently by a friend. At the time I felt I was having an exceptional experience. And it was. Exceptional. But this in no way made me, or others involved exceptions. What does this mean? It means we are not special in a way that sets us apart from others or the natural world. We are all bound by natural (nature’s) laws, and ideally, we are internally directed by ethical boundaries and spiritual principles that remind us of this interconnectedness. Whatever this exceptional experience is—some version of it has happened to countless others. No exceptions. We are all part of the human race and are part of the larger natural and global world. We are intimately connected to all of life with its limits and responsibilities.

The part of me that wanted (and may want again) to be the exception is the one that learned from alcoholic and dysfunctional relationships that there are always exceptions: We are special, is an unspoken mantra in such families (and countries). There are always rules to be broken and principles to be rejected (without consideration). We are entitled, arrogant and isolated. We are the center of the universe whether or not we consider ourself victims to circumstances or supposed heroes.

Seeing ourself as an exception is a way to not be bound to respectful and meaningful ways of interacting with others. This is a way to ignore or deny a deeper truth that wants to emerge. When we are the exception, we break boundaries that would otherwise keep us spiritually and emotionally whole. When we see ourselves as the exception (this doesn’t apply to me even though it applies to everyone else), then we don’t have to navigate our lives and relationships by an inner truth or compass. We also don’t have to take others into account. Where we have made ourselves (our country), or our experiences the exception we have wandered off into dangerous territory where we, and others will likely be harmed. This mindset that this, or we, are an exception is a form of self-deception and an invitation to experiment with our or other’s lives in a negative way.

We are unique (exceptional), yes, but not different, not special or separate (exceptions).

Seeing our experiences, our country, our status, or our selves as the exception separates us from reality. Reality points out to how we are more alike than different and that we are in this together.

“Our situation is an exception,” has now become a red flag for me – an invitation to look closer to what is really being asked of myself, or others. Sometimes the words are not used but people may say or imply this specialness in pointing out how “this is different.” Or, one may hint at this being an exception in order to try and manipulate us. This form of manipulation is found in those having a religious or psychological conversion experience brought on by some charismatic leader. Or someone forces their timetable on us because of what they view as an exception.

Finally, when we see ourselves as the exception, we lose sight of the exceptional. We can choose instead to rely on the exceptional, which means that we find joy in what arises in our everyday experiences and encounters (even when times are difficult). Because every moment, even those darker ones, hold an exceptional quality within them. By simply being in the moment our joys increase and our view of what is possible widens. We then have the ability to see what is truly possible through the reality of relatedness and connection.

Parker J Palmer

Parker J Palmer laughing. Author of Healing The Heart of Democracy


I hope you know who these two are. 🙂


Nature Mandala made at retreat


Us at local coffee shop celebrating community


State Street during Women’s March Photo by Lydia Bear Ishmael

1,405 thoughts on “US: Exceptional but not The Exception

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