A few days ago, I had an interesting discussion with some students where we discussed the role that comparison plays in our lives. That discussion challenged me to rethink and revise some of my views on comparison and led me to wonder about the larger social and cultural narrative that shapes the idea of comparison.
Comparison is simply the act of establishing similarities and/or differences between two or more objects/components/things/people. Why then does it bring up so many difficulties and emotions for us? I wonder if it is because it also establishes a hierarchy of sorts. In this hierarchy, there exists someone who is ‘better and someone who is ‘worse’. Where we fall in this affects our sense of self and directly touches upon our insecurities about ourselves (which we would rather not look at if we had a choice).
The idea that we always look at ourselves in relation to others is something that has always been there. We are after all social and relational creatures. We are who we are because of the relationships we share with the people around us. This is helpful to know what is acceptable and not acceptable for the culture and society we live in, not so much when it comes to satisfaction and contentment. For eg, it helps to know that hitting someone is unacceptable and will lead to possible repercussions. However, it doesn’t help when we stop a hobby because we are not as good as a classmate in school.
Knowing where we stand in relation to other people can be grounds for us to improve ourselves. But does it always work? For many of us, it brings in feelings of inferiority and shame- feelings of not being enough- good enough, worthy enough, deserving enough, talented enough, and so on. It is important to introspect about these feelings. Does someone else being better at something mean that my work, ability, talent, feelings don’t matter? What is so uncomfortable about it for me? Where does this idea of being the best or better than everybody else come from? What is wrong with being average at something?
As a society, there is so much emphasis on being the best at what we do and not as much on compassion and acceptance. I can be okay with not being the best at my work and compassionate with myself when I make a mistake. This allows me the space to understand what I would like to do next. Do I want to try again with a new strategy or maybe I would prefer giving myself a break or maybe I need time to understand what went wrong earlier? When I compare myself to someone else, I am not giving space to myself to do any of this because the focus is on being better or as good as them and not on what I would like to do or what I need to do.
Where would we be as individuals and as a society if we allow ourselves the space to nurture ourselves and not evaluate how we are doing in relation to other people? Maybe we would be happier? Maybe more forgiving? And maybe we could extend this to how we treat ourselves and the people around us.