No Comparison

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2021-10-13 21:00:00 No comments

I think back now to one of the first times I encountered the phrase, "Do not compare yourself to others." Of course you have to compare yourself to others! I whined. There just ain't anyone else around these days to compare one's self to! And don't give me that chaff about comparing yourself to your past self, that doesn't count!

I now suspect the reason I got so hung on this, once 'pon a time, was because I was over-estimating the degree to which people cared about me directly. Or, rather, mis-estimating -- thinking about it in qualitatively incorrect ways. I used to think everyone else had no choice but to fit me into some kind of massive stack-ranking, and that if I wasn't at the top of that ranking I wasn't anywhere. Being young and stupid has its toll, what can I say. I had pretty twisted notions of what human psychology and behavior consisted of when I was younger, and the fact that prevented me from writing credible fiction was one of the much less significant obstacles it threw in my way.

Most people do not put everyone they know into a single hierarchy anyway. In fact I'd wager nobody does this at all. (Again: me and my weird mind.) There's no point in comparing ourselves to others, because other people are not returning the favor as much as you think they are anyway. A preoccupation with what others think of you is a sign of immaturity, or at least inexperience with human nature.

The flipside of this is not utter indifference to the sentiments of others, though. The word is preoccupation -- that is, over-valuing what others think of you out of proportion to its actual significance. A politician has no choice but to care about what people think of him, because that's a big part of how he gets elected. An artist has more freedom in that respect; it's not as important if a critic doesn't like him, but it's still in his best interest not to tick off cops.

Once I hit a certain point in my life I developed a far more intuitive understanding of why it was futile to compare ourselves to each other. Maybe not meaningless (in the sense that it is possible to derive perspective), but certainly futile (in the sense that such comparisons would not really make it possible to implement any workable strategy to make the comparisons more equitable). I cannot compare myself in any meaningful way to someone who has spent twelve years in a monastery observing a vow of silence, or to someone who grew up in the Andes -- at least not if the purpose of the comparison is to make a morality play out of my life vs. theirs. Lives may consist of moral choices, but they are not themselves morality plays, and neither are the people in them. What does make sense is to look to the lives of others for perspective and insight.

So, yes: if you must compare, compare to what you were before, and see where there is room for insight or improvement. I still have a lot of the same traits I had when I was younger and not as good a person (in my eyes, anyway), but I think I have managed to wean myself of the worst of them. Like, say, comparing myself to others in the wrong fashion.

Tags: psychology self-help