The Pitfall of Comparison (Part 2)
In our house, there is little room for whining and complaining about how “It’s not fair!” or “But all my friends____________, so why can’t I? That’s not fair.” Fair is a taboo word in our home. It’s another F-word. When it rears its ugly head, I jump on it. I will respond with, “Do we really want to talk about what’s fair?” At which point I can choose from a limitless supply of examples of how we are so blessed while others are suffering so much. And we don’t have to look far to see that.
You see, in our house, we have a constant reminder that life is not fair. It is a beautiful reminder.
Our nine-year-old daughter, like everybody on the planet, has gifts and talents, as well as limitations and weaknesses. She is physically beautiful, socially charming, and emotionally intelligent. Honestly, she is one the most delightful people I have ever met, and many other people agree.
Now, before you get too jealous of her (or embittered about my bragging), you should know that she cannot walk, cannot talk, and cannot care for herself in any way. She has severe spastic quadraplegic cerebral palsy, mental retardation, and epilepsy caused by a lack of oxygen at birth. Her brain is damaged and there is no cure. I have lost track of how many surgeries, pieces of mobility equipment, and orthopedic braces she has had. In addition, she eats from a very restricted diet, consisting mostly of fats, in order to control her seizures. Needless to say, she has a very difficult life on many levels. It is not fair. Yet she is happy. She makes the best of what she has been given.
By comparison, I am less happy than she is, even though I have none of her problems. I am very capable and blessed in every area of life; I enjoy a good life, yet I don’t smile and laugh as much as she does everyday. Sometimes I feel deficient compared to her.
Now, she is not an angel all the time. When she gets tired, hot, and hungry, or if she is in pain, she can be really horrible to be around. She is human.
Yet, there are definitely times when I envy her. I am jealous of her vibrant joy, her loving relationships with people, and her ability to soften even the hardest of hearts. She is a delightful person, while I am — not so much.
However, there are also many times when I think that there is nothing that would make me want to have her life. Sometimes, I think, “How can she stand it? Who would want that?” I pity her at these times and thank God that it’s not me in her situation. I am not proud of these moments, for to pity is not love.
The point is that she is a human being, no more or less valuable than you, me, and the other seven billion people currently on this third rock from the sun. We are children of God — people who share the human experience (the good, the bad, and the ugly) with every person on the planet.
My daughter reminds me daily that there is no good result from comparing my life to hers, or to anyone else. It’s self-centered, and the result is to either think too highly of myself, too little of myself, or some other negative un-truth. Instead, it’s best to focus on achieving my goals and building up my character, rather than bemoaning all the surrounding problems.
So, how am I to measure myself? One answer is found in the immortal words of Colonel Potter of the M*A*S*H television series, “This world is too big to be in competition with everybody else. The only guy I need to be better than is myself.”
In other words, I should strive to be better than I once was, rather than striving to be somebody else or striving to live up to somebody else’s standards. And that does not happen by comparing myself to others. It happens through setting my own goals and measuring my own progress, given my own set of talents and limitations. It happens through focusing on the character traits I value – things such as love, integrity, compassion, strength, loyalty, creativity, and honor.
In conclusion, the sum of comparing my life against others is always negative. It’s a very bad habit, worth breaking. Instead, it’s best to accept the fact that life is not fair and that nothing good comes from griping about it. And the sooner our kids can learn to accept that, the happier, healthier, and more successful they will be in life.
Certainly, life is not fair. I can either be okay with that, or I can be bitter about that. But the way I feel about it will not change that fact of life one iota. It’s a law of the universe. So, I will choose to be okay with the fact that life is unfair, and I will do everything I can to help young people embrace this attitude as well.