As I mentioned recently, the culture of comparison we’ve established for ourselves has been weighing heavily on my heart lately. Rather than just sitting around and stewing over it, I’ve been thinking of ways I can help change the situation.
I’m only one person, of course, but maybe if we join together, we can change this to a culture of encouragement, of support, of cheering one another on instead of breaking one another down.
Maybe instead of a culture of comparisons, we can create a culture of congratulations.
Think about it: What if we genuinely congratulated one another instead of making comparisons to ourselves?
What if we truly felt joy for someone instead of envy?
What if we spoke in enthusiastic, celebratory ways that created a safe atmosphere instead of giving a fake, forced “Good for you,” and gritting our teeth?
Can we do it? Can we change this culture?
The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced we can.
Consider the comments that invite comparisons.
I have a friend who likes to bait people into comparison. She has lots going for her, especially in terms of wealth and material items, and she likes to point out those elements of her life to anyone who will listen.
Needless to say, it’s frustrating. For a while, I couldn’t figure out why she was flaunting her wealth in this way. Did she think I was materialistic and these items would impress me? Did she worry that I didn’t like her enough and needed to be impressed by her? What in the world was going on here?
I started paying better attention to when she would make these comments, and I realized that it was at points in the conversation when she felt insecure. She has a job she doesn’t really love, so if someone mentioned having a great day at work, she steered the conversation to her new designer bag. She has had some struggles with her parents, so if someone talked about spending the holidays with family, she mentioned luxury car shopping.
Notice a trend here? Yeah. Me, too.
When people try to bait you into comparison, stop and consider why. Are they suffering in some way? Are they covering up what’s really going on in their lives? Are they making up for an insecurity? When you think about it, you may notice something deeper at work.
But here’s the caveat: Don’t think about it in a condescending way.
You’ve really got to embrace compassion in situations like this, as difficult as that may be. Believe me, this friend of mine is good at making people around her feel inferior, myself included. It’s a battle for me not to jump to comparison, then feel inferior, then build myself back up by thinking, “Oh, poor so-and-so. She only does this because she hates her job and her situation with her parents. Lucky me! I don’t have those issues!”
Guess what? That kind of thinking is not compassionate. In fact, considering myself at all negates the compassion. Compassion is about other people, not ourselves.
When we truly step back and consider why people make these comments, it keeps us from making those comparisons and adding to the problem. It also helps us understand what other people are going through and gives us what we need to speak life to them.
Now consider the reactions we have to those comments.
Lest I start sounding high and mighty or holier than thou, let me tell you that fighting comparison is a struggle for me. I’m not writing this post because I have all the answers; I’m writing it because I’m starting to seek the answers and hope to find others who are, too.
If I’m being honest with myself, I realize that my immediate reaction to those kinds of comments is exactly what the person making them intends: comparison. Much like my friend who struggles with work and family, I struggle with certain aspects of life, too, and those struggles often dictate how I react.
For example, I’m currently wrestling a lot of emotions related to home-buying. My husband and I are renting a wonderful little condo, but I’m really feeling the urge to put down roots, to paint walls, to have a single address on all our paperwork. To nest, if you will. As I’m sure you know, the home-buying process isn’t easy, and the emotional side of it has become a struggle for me.
Because of this, if someone mentions anything homeowner-related, I tend to jump to comparison. Again, much like my friend, my own insecurities and disappointments are keeping me from experiencing joy for others.
But why am I allowing this to happen? Why not take control of my reactions?
If a friend mentions saving money to have her house painted, I don’t have to envy her for being able to paint. Instead, I can celebrate her financial responsibility and enjoy helping her select paint colors.
If a coworker asks why my husband and I don’t own a house, I don’t have to get my haunches up and spiral into worries that she thinks we’re financially irresponsible. I can answer her honestly and say that we’re making the best decisions for us right now and maybe—if I’m really feeling humble—ask her if she has advice about home-buying.
Instead of comparison and envy, I can choose congratulations and joy.
It won’t be easy, but I think it’s a far better choice.