My Problem: exceptionalism.

It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I realized that much of my frustration is based on my attitude of exceptionalism. I’ve been hearing talk about this so-called American Exceptionalism, but I didn’t give it much thought. Many of my friends, usually the ones with a more socially conservative bent, reject the idea that thinking of ourselves as exceptional is a bad idea. In other words, we are exceptional, so there!

I actually haven’t given this much thought. However, I do realize, at an underlying layer, that I do consider America exceptional. We are more affluent than 90% of the world and we live pretty comfortably. But other than that, I really don’t care.

Then, I moved to Nebraska and found myself lamenting the lack of passion, creativity, and diversity here. Reading another blog post where a woman from NYC was lamenting the same views, she mentioned her East Coast Exceptionalism — BOOM! She put a label on my issue. I feel/believe I am exceptional because I’m from Portland — currently the 2nd most creative city in the USA. Consequently, I was looking down my nose at my new neighbors, the Nebraskans. #oops

After reading this article: several thoughts and ideas came to my head. If you want to hop over and read it, I’ll wait here for you.


I’ve always known that most Christians consider themselves exceptional. We, as a group, tend to look down on unbelievers, backslidden church members, and atheists. Of course this hurts our ability to reach out to others — which is supposed to be our mission. Our efforts to help the poor and downcast is usually tainted by our superior attitude.

Just yesterday I was swimming with my kids at a local lake and I found myself standing in an attitude of superiority to the “trailer-trash” around me. How dare I? Just admitting that to myself — and now you — is humbling. I have work to do. I considered myself pretty open and compassionate to “the poor” until I realized that I really don’t want to mingle with the unwashed masses. I’m afraid of how they will influence my kids and if they’ll intrude on my comfort. #ugh

As I read the above linked article, I realize that I am entrenched in exceptionalism. I’m American, Christian, and from Portland. Plus, I’m college educated, white, and relatively intelligent. I’m a tall, white, American male — at the top of the societal food chain. Of course I’m special.

In the article I referenced earlier, I realized that the solution to my Nebraska frustration is to realize that I’m not so special just because I’m from the coolest city in the country, Portland. And now I’m beginning to realize that I’m not all that socially, racially, politically, religiously, spiritually, or in any other area.

At times, I’ve looked down on co-workers for not being as smart, not having the same life experiences, or not being as creative. See? Exceptionalism. Usually, in the back of my mind I think, “that’s their problem!” But now I realize it is actually my problem. Yes, they might have a problem — but their problem is not my problem. My problem is my problem. #ugh

So, I have work to do. Lots of humbling, surrendering, and letting go.

Am I special? Sure — just like everyone else.