Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Compared to What?

I’ve always loved, and often quoted, the anonymous (to me, anyway) bit of wisdom: “When people tell me ‘Life is hard,’ I’m always tempted to ask, ‘Compared to what?’” Life, and our reaction to it, is inevitably one endless string of comparisons. We are constantly weighing ourselves on some sort of ethereal balance with the things and people around us.

Depending on one’s emotional makeup, this can either be a healthy and constructive way of judging and adjusting to our position in life, or a constant reminder of our own failings and shortcomings, real or imagined. It will come as no great surprise to anyone who has followed these blogs for any length of time to learn I tend strongly toward the latter view.

I spend a great deal of time being angry with myself, and for my egocentric insistence that I am alone in the world when it comes to feelings of falling short in nearly every comparison challenge. I seem to insist upon finding the bruised banana in every bunch. And I also have a tendency to be somewhat selective in those individuals and situations I compare myself to—invariably, it is to people/things I envy or want. I don’t usually compare myself with those who might objectively be considered to be my peers. (Perhaps this may be due in part to the fact that I have always felt myself so apart from others that the very concept of having peers is a little foreign to me.)

That I am not the only person to have difficulty with comparisons, or who always feels at the short end of the stick is hardly surprising. The fact of the matter is that few people have or take the time to consider things outside themselves and their own realm of existence. They still constantly compare themselves to others in a million different ways…jobs, wages, possessions (“Keeping up with the Joneses” is a classic way to describe it)…without really considering what they’re doing.

Eastern cultures are not nearly so concerned with the need for constant comparison; their philosophical bases are very different from ours. They tend to see the world as a level playing table. Western cultures are more likely to see the world as a ladder. It’s in our nature to look up the ladder to the next rung. Whatever we have, there’s somebody who has more: more money, more talent, more possessions, more power. And we’re never happy until we have it, too. (And then when we get it, the cycle repeats itself endlessly.) Comparisons, by their very nature, lead to dissatisfaction.

Our society is pretty firmly rooted in greed, and as a result, the deck is stacked against the person doing the comparing. We seldom compare ourselves, or even give any consideration to—though we should—people who are a few rungs beneath us on the ladder. For far too many people, it’s not what we have, it’s what we want.

When it comes to comparisons and the resultant problems of low self-esteem, the negative power of television has no equal. Everyone on television—both women and men—is young and beautiful, and rich, and knows exactly what to wear and how to act in any given situation. Stare at any primetime soap opera for an hour and then take a look in the mirror. Recent studies have shown—stop the presses!—that low self-esteem and many of the serious problems affecting young women, from anorexia to bulimia and on down, can be traced to the false ideals of “attractiveness” they’re constantly exposed to on TV. Wow! Talk about an “I didn’t see that one coming” revelation!

And men are not immune. Why do you think spammers make fortunes on products guaranteed to “make her scream with pleasure” (pardon me while I projectile-vomit)? That men love porn is hardly a revelation, yet even though the men in porn movies are not the intended focus of attention, they always seem to be far above average in the “endowment” department. How can poor Sam Schlub, after watching a porn flick, expect to compete?
Comparisons are an integral and important part of life…they act as a sort of compass guiding us through existence. But it is time we began putting things in perspective. We can start with the simple realization that each of us is only one human being trying to measure ourselves against nearly seven billion others. And with those odds, there’s absolutely no contest: you’re gonna lose. A little more self-acceptance would vastly relieve all the unnecessary grief we put ourselves through every day, and greatly simplify our lives. Then we can switch our attention to things that really matter, like whether Tiger Woods will reconcile with his wife, or whether Paris Hilton will survive her brave battle with her most recent hangnail.
This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from and; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/ You can find information about Dorien's books at his web site: 

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