One huge problem with the American mindset is that we’ve been brought up to constantly believe that we’re always special. We’re all unique and different. Well, that’s true, factually, but mentally it’s a rather disingenuous thing to say: the fact that we’re all unique and different is what makes us boring, which is to say that your uniqueness isn’t a very unique or interesting quality. So we’re all our own people. Great! But so is everyone else, and that doesn’t absolve us of our need to recognize the fact that people as a whole share many traits and exist contextually as social beings.
Another problematic tendency is the one to treat ourselves as the objective rule, the yardstick by which everyone else should be measured. In extrapolating our own unique circumstances to the rest of the world, we obliterate the fact that there are very real differences between us, and that different people will act differently in different situations as a result. My body may not respond to exercise the way yours does, and vice versa.
Aside from the obvious problems either of these perspectives can cause, a third more horrifying possibility also pops up: that we apply these perspectives in conjunction, at the same time. We see ourselves as uniquely better than others, the exception to all rules - and yet also the standard setter, the basis for the rules which everyone else should follow. Why can’t others live up to our uniqueness? Well, it must be their fault. This is where we get stuff like privilege.
In the fitness industry, we get stuff like the fit mom’s “what’s your excuse?”, a statement that completely erases the possibility of other people’s situations being different, their bodies reacting differently to exercise than her own. Individual reaction to exercise, diet, diet and exercise history, psychological factors, and much more all factors into it. We get people assuming that because a particular diet, exercise plan, or training regimen worked for them, it must work for everyone. It should be evident that this isn't the case.
Everyone is different, yet we share many common features. While there are many ways that we are similar, there are also many ways that we can be unique. Being a good trainer means recognizing both our similarities and our differences, knowing what’s changeable and what isn’t. It means knowing that a squat may be the best exercise for overall leg development regardless of who’s performing the motion, but also recognizing that not everyone can squat the same and that some people may need exercise variations in order to build up to full squats (or may have to skip squats altogether!). It means realizing that not everyone will enjoy the same things, and should focus on different aspects of fitness in order to maximize the benefit they get out of their investment. It means recognizing that many people will have it harder than others, and that we need to treat them with compassion and respect rather than ridicule for failing to live up to our standards.
You can’t be both the exception and the rule.