#307: Use comparisons for good

03 Nov

Something you should know about me: I hate comparing myself to others.  If I compare myself to people who are more (subjectively) successful than I am, I feel bad for not living up to some generic standard that admittedly no one is actually holding me to.  But that’s no big deal.  The trouble starts if I compare myself to people who are less successful than I am.

See, you’re supposed to do this–or at least I’ve heard the notion repeatedly from 2 past boyfriends over the last decade–so that you feel better about yourself.  By looking at how much better off you are than the less fortunate, or by realizing how much more you’ve accomplished than less ambitious people, you’re supposed to be grateful for what you have, or see your own success in a different light.

But for me, it never worked.  No matter how I fared compared to others, I still wasn’t good enough for this ambiguous “success” concept that had somehow gotten trapped in my mind.  It made no difference that I could objectively see I wasn’t as much of a failure as I claimed to be.  There was just no point in looking objectively at it because I was always going to come up short when held up against my own skewed view of where I should be in life.  Of course those people in poverty are worse off than I am–they had fewer opportunities than I did; what’s my excuse? is something I would often think.

Yesterday, though, when my coworker announced at 3pm that she’d forgotten to eat lunch (for the sake of this blog post, let’s ignore the fact that I find it impossible to comprehend that she could have actually forgotten this–whether I have time to eat or not, I grab my sandwich from the fridge and inhale it while working.  Anyone who does otherwise has no resourcefulness–or okay, maybe just a slow metabolism), I offered her the food I was saving for my afternoon snack.  I’ll admit I wanted her to turn it down.  Later, as my stomach was growling at me for giving away its extra nourishment and encouraging me to resent having shared my food, I made a comparison.

Here you are, I thought, feeling like you’re starving, developing a headache, wondering how you’re ever going to make it till dinner.  And there all of those others are, in the same city, without power, without food, and some without homes.  Can you really even begin to complain when you’re so clearly better off than those other people whose only fault was living in an area of an island that seemed invincible?

The answer was no, and for the rest of the evening I made the same comparison.  It kept me from complaining in my mind about how hungry I was, and it also focused my perspective on something other than myself for once–both positive outcomes.

Every New Yorker is getting hit in the face with disaster talk this week, so it’s not something new I just came up with.  But I wonder, if it made me feel better yesterday, might it work from now on?  When I’m angry about any apparent injustice, can’t I just remind myself that there are those without power, without food, and without homes?  Because that will always be the case, no matter how complacent we might get in this city when there hasn’t just been a hurricane.  If we want to be hit in the face with tales of people who have it worse, we never have far to look.

Which is depressing in a way, sure.  But it’s also something I think many of us could stand to be reminded of more often.

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Posted by on November 3, 2012 in NYC


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