You Are Special
By Max Lucado
In a village, there live many different Wemmicks. The Wemmicks walk around all day and give each other either a gold star or a gray dot sticker. A Wemmick named Punchinello always tries his best to receive gold stars from the other Wemmicks but only receives gray dots for not doing well enough. One day he meets a Wemmick named Lucia who doesn't have any gold stars or gray dots because they don't stick to her. Punchinello doesn't want any stickers on him either so Lucia tells him to visit their maker, Eli. Eli explains to Punchinello that if he is not bothered by what the other Wemmicks think then the star and dots will not stick to him either.
Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion
By Rose Levenson and Hadassa Mikalixen
You Are Special introduces the idea of what being special means and if it matters.
The central issue in the story is about whether the opinions of other Wemmicks should determine how Punchinello feels about himself. He judges his own worth based on the opinions and judgments of others. The other Wemmicks always assess Punchinello's worth using standards of excellence that are described in the book as being pretty, having smooth wood and fine paint, being talented, lifting things, jumping high, knowing big words, or singing songs. Having these qualities and talents are what the Wemmicks think deserve a gold star. Being special usually means being greater, better, or otherwise different than what is usual. We could also consider being special as the same thing as being unique. But are these the only traits that make someone special?
In the story, being special is defined by the woodcarver Eli as being made uniquely. Punchinello goes to Eli and discovers that he matters to Eli because Eli made him and it wasn't a mistake. Eli tells Punchinello, "The stickers only stick if they matter to you. The more you trust my love, the less you care about their stickers." Punchinello doesn't completely understand, but when a gray dot falls off of him at the end, we are to understand that the opinions of the other Wemmicks only stick to Punchinello if he truly cares what they think about him. The story defines special as caring about your own unique qualities and knowing that you matter instead of placing value in the judgments of others. It is important to realize that the opinions of others do not have to be the final word or decision of a matter such as whether someone is special or not. Do we have to decide for ourselves whose opinion is the best to listen to? These issues lead to the philosophical question of what it means to be special, unique, or authentic. Authenticity is characterization that is formed from undisputed origins and is being faithful to your own original self. In the context of the story, Punchinello is authentic to why he was made and that he is not a mistake. He realizes that he is special just by being himself and that his value and worth shouldn't be shaped by the other Wemmicks.
Furthermore, as individuals, we should decide if we care what other people think of us and what those opinions will do to our self-worth and authenticity. Perhaps we shouldn't listen to someone's opinion if it negatively influences us. In that case, should we only listen to the opinions of people that are superior, wise, and older than us? These issues lead to the philosophical question of whether there is a need for individuals to be authentic. For our purposes, we use the philosophical term authenticity in place of using the term special with the children.
Questions for Philosophical Discussion
Opinions About Others
"He deserves lots of dots, the wooden people would agree with one another. He's not a good wooden person. After a while, Punchinello believed them. I'm not a good Wemmick, he would say."
"After a while Punchinello had so many dots that he didn't want to go outside... In fact, he had so many gray dots that some people would come up to him and give him one for no reason at all."
Opinions of One-Self
"One day he met a Wemmick who was unlike any he'd ever met. She had no dots or stars. She was just wooden. Her name was Lucia."
"That's the way I want to be, thought Punchinello. I don't want anyone's marks."
"Looks like you've been given some bad marks. I didn't mean to, Eli. I really tried hard. Oh, you don't have to defend yourself to me, child. I don't care what the other Wemmicks think."
Authenticity and Being Special
"Who are they to give star or dots? They're Wemmicks just like you. What they think doesn't matter, Punchinello. All that matters is what I think. And I think you are pretty special."
"Each Wemmick was different. Some had big noses, others had large eyes. Some were tall and others were short. Some wore hats, others wore coats. But all were made by the same carver and all lived in the village."
"Some Wemmicks had stars all over them! Every time they got a star it made them feel so good! It made them want to do something else and get another star. Others, though could do little. They got dots."