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Don’t Compare and You Won’t Be Confused
We live in the era of instant access to comparison. At the touch of a few keys, we can compare prices and services of almost anything from electricity to houses, from cars to camels! It’s a brilliant service that offers the opportunity to use time and money more efficiently. However, it is a tendency that tends not to stop at commodities and utilities. As we spectate the world through our media window we also find ourselves easily trapped in comparisons with others. Either consciously or subconsciously many of us will also spend our lives in search of an identity and thereby spend much time watching and comparing ourselves with others along the way. As we search for an identity it’s as if we are torn between being like someone else and completely rebelling against all established types… stereo or otherwise! At the same time, some of us will believe we have found our individuality by being the same as someone else. We don’t notice the contradiction when we imitate another, either by looks, fashion, or lifestyle, and yet believe we are a trendsetter!
Comparing yourself with another is one of the most disempowering habits. Often learned at an early age, it is well-fed by the marketing and entertainment industries. Cars, bodies, homes, friends, lifestyles, and personality are only a few of the many levels at which we learn to compare ourselves with other people. In so doing we seldom feel our self-esteem becoming stronger, and if we do, it is more likely to be a short-lived inflation of our ego, and deflation must follow.
The Pitfall of Constant Comparison
Comparing ourselves with others is a deep and often subtle conditioning in a world where “people watching” has become, for many, a daily obsession. As we watch, we compare, as we compare, we desire, and as we desire we lose our ability to be content with where we are and what we have. Someone else’s life always looks better than “my life”, someone else’s success always seems much greater than any success I may achieve and someone else’s future always seems to look much rosier than my future. These thought patterns are fatal to our well-being and over time can paralyze our ability to think clearly for ourselves.
Comparison at the Form Level: The Beauty Myth
Although there are many levels at which we learn to compare, perhaps the most common is at the level of form. The “beauty myth” feeds us the illusion that if we are not drop-dead stunningly gorgeous then we cannot be successful and we cannot be happy. The images of perfectly formed bodies, with the most attractive faces, adorn our glossy magazines (women’s and men’s) and, in some places, our daily newspaper. As we absorb the “beautiful is best” mythology many will spend both money and time attempting to achieve the shape, smile, suntan, and style of life of those whom they aspire to be like. It all comes with that subtle promise of happiness and success, and if our awareness is dim enough, we will believe it. Then we become perplexed as to why we are even unhappier, and even more discontent when we obviously fail to look like the manufactured image of the perfected human form. The sadness at not achieving what we perceive others have achieved, the disappointment at not being able to duplicate the physical beauty of another, can lead to depression, and then other industries will benefit from our expenditure as we attempt to counter our flagging feelings of self-worth. It is a spiral that only leads downwards.
Imitation vs. Inspiration: Navigating a Fine Line
However, there are those who will counter all this and say that it’s good to aspire to the heights that others seem to have reached. It is here that we meet a fine line between imitation and inspiration. It’s always good to recognize the best and see the virtue in another’s character. But while it is good to see their virtues it pays to leave the person outside the doorway of our mind. Imitation may be a form of flattery but it is also a sign that we are suppressing ourselves. An aspiration towards excellence, an inclination to inculcate virtue, an intention to replace our vicious cycles with virtuous cycles at the level of our thoughts, feelings, and attitudes is the road to being all that we can be. But it is a road we must walk alone. It is not a road to more acquisition or accumulation. It is a journey towards the realization that each and every one of us is already all that we can ever be, we are already complete, and we are already worthy and highly esteemed. It’s just that we have temporarily lost awareness of it.
Breaking Free: Ending the Cycle of Comparison
Ending all comparisons with others is essential to living a contented and fulfilling life, where our life is “filled” from inside out, not outside in. To break the habit it helps to remember three things:
– You are unique (it is the one thing we ALL have in common!) and it is impossible to look or be the same as anyone else.
– Your life is a gift and an opportunity to plow your own furrow, create your own path, shape your own destiny, and in so doing you do what you are here to do which is create your life which, if you do it well, will enrich the lives of others.
– You already have all that you need within you. Much of what your body needs comes from outside you, but ALL that YOU need comes from within, and you can never lose it, only lose your awareness of it, and connection with it!
This means that what you see in the bathroom mirror in the morning is not you, it is just the form you occupy. It means beauty is not skin deep, it is beyond the skin. It means beauty is not an image or a reflection, it is what you see and feel when you know yourself as you truly, uniquely are. And it is what others will see and feel when your thoughts and actions are shaped by love, guided by truth, and shared with kindness. Then virtue will be its own reward, as well as “bring” its own rewards. And then all comparison with others and all aspiration to be like others will seem like a disease that you recovered from a long time ago.
Question: In what areas or at what levels do you find yourself comparing yourself with others most?
Reflection: What is the difference between aspiration, inspiration, and perspiration?
Action: See the beauty (virtue) within the actions of one person every day this week and, where appropriate, tell them.
Written by our professor Mike George.