It’s such a powerful idea when you consider it carefully: Comparison is the thief of joy. I’d say it goes directly towards how often comparing ourselves or what we have to others or what they have, makes us, well, an awful lot of negative shades of our former selves. Negative shades of jealousy, envy, resentfulness, tendencies to be begrudging, feel like we’re lacking, and so forth; it’s potentially a long list.
By living under the false concept that the grass is always greener on the other side, we are robbing ourselves of contentment. By forgetting that we really have little idea what else might be going on at any given time with any given person, we allow ourselves to imagine that their lives are perfect; or at least much better than ours. Deep down we know this isn’t realistic.
If our notion of perfection, or a perfect life, is that everything is always wonderful and nothing ever goes wrong, then we would have to be thinking of a “family” of mannequins in a department store window or in a painting. It’s simply impossible.
Then again if we’re measuring how much someone else possesses compared to how much we possess it will very quickly turn into a lose-lose situation. No one wins. If our happiness rides on our material possessions, or our wealth, we put ourselves in a very tenuous position, indeed.
And sometimes the act of comparison can be triggered by something really personal. Like something taken out of context, or something we’ve internalized that has begun to influence our opinions and affect our judgement.
This is something that I never told anyone, not a single soul, since it happened. I internalized it, it became part of my inner dialogue without me really being aware of it and I’ve carried it around for many, many years.
As I said, many years ago, someone said something to me that was unexpected and could have went into one ear and out the other, but instead it stuck around on the shadowy periphery of my mind, to pop up unexpectedly and challenge my own self confidence.
I was at my parent’s house where I’d spent my teen years until I left home. We were out on the back deck one evening, and my uncle was playing his guitar. Whoever was around at any given time sang the oldies along with him; my dad, a family friend, and I. And my mom was in and out.
At some point a neighbor stumbled into the backyard. I say stumbled because it quickly became obvious that he’d been indulging in some alcoholic libations, and he was quite, shall we say, lubricated.
I didn’t really know him at all, his family moved in after I’d left. I didn’t know what to make of him, and this was not really a fantastic first impression. He was animated though, and had people chuckling at his antics, loud slurred speech aside.
At some point, and for just the briefest moment it was just him and I alone, in the almost darkness of one in the morning, and maybe the glow of a few solar lights and a lit up sky.
I’ll never be completely certain of just exactly what he said and I’m about one thousand percent sure (if that was a thing) that he doesn’t even know he spoke to me (rather, he mumbled towards me), but it went something like this, “You’re not as good looking as your mother. You look like your father, too.”
It actually took me a few seconds to a) realize he was speaking to me, and b) what he was telling me. Obviously this isn’t anything to be horrified by, or feel sorry for me about, but it was kind of shocking to hear coming from this big burley stranger of a man.
See, I had it in my brain that girls hopefully take after their mothers, while boys favor their fathers. It’s really a non-concept because I’d never actually had a thought about it, until my peers started having children and sharing photos on Facebook.
At some point I really started realizing, and as well as the fact that I knew both their mother and father, that some girls favor their mom, their dad, or even both parents. This should truthfully be celebrated! Two people created life, after all.
That’s when it hit me what it can do to a person(s) to compare parents and children. I’m not suggesting never doing it, and I’d be a hypocrite if I did. We seem to instinctively look for similarities in off-spring. But let’s leave it at that, if we can?
If only I’d understood that this could have gone in one ear and out the other, or even should have. Or especially if I’d only understood that this was not necessarily a bad thing at all. However, pretty much all of my life I’d been compared to my mother, and still am to this day.
In fact as a teenager I was walking through the mall with a group of friends when a gentleman that I didn’t recognize stopped me and flat out asked me if I was [insert my mother’s name and maiden name here]? He said he could tell immediately that I must be?
So on this dark night, what was this inebriated stranger now suggesting? He put a twist on my age-old conviction. He poked a hole in my preconceived notion. My inner critic found itself fueled by this, and it didn’t matter one iota that I thought my father to be very handsome…he’s a, a man!
I did sense that he’d meant it as a criticism, and I took it as such. And he may have, but who cares? Well, I mean I did, but not anymore. His words, in my head, are no longer ever going to rob me of my joy.
I am choosing happiness.
Postface or Afterword:
I was reading a lovely essay the other day written by a celebrity who recently won a famous reality show contest and decided to talk about all the online bullying she experienced while competing. You may have read it, if not you can find the full essay here.
She also revealed that despite this she’d never felt more beautiful than when she was doing her thing on the show. [from the essay] “…after I finished I felt more beautiful than I had in my entire life. Not because of how I looked…but because of what I’d accomplished and worked so hard for.”
I love that.
She had begun with the above quote about comparison made famous by Theodore Roosevelt, the one that I’d already been writing my own piece on, before I’d read her essay. I thought to myself, “Oh, I guess I should start over and look for another quote”, but instead I decided to move forward, and include a preface about her essay.
As we know everybody has a story; all their experiences and memories make up their lives and she’d admitted that she’d been bullied as a young girl, and she’d struggled with many of the same struggles that most of us have. She mentions looks and body image. She additionally mentions self-bullying and our tendencies to too often be cruel to other women. The essay wraps up beautifully with this:
“What it comes down to is this: We all need to stop bullying ourselves and being cruel to other women. Attacking one another instead of supporting one another has become the norm. Life’s hard enough as it is. Let’s find strength in the fact that we’re different and unique. Let’s allow ourselves to say, “These are my flaws, but I’m still beautiful.” Let’s find our own value, know what we have to offer—and know that that is enough.”
Raina K Morton June 16 2015