“Comparison is the root of evil.”
My dad often told me this as I was growing up. No, these words don’t come from the Bible and yes, I know love of money is usually credited with being the root of all evil. But if you think about it, there’s a lot of truth to my dad’s statement.
Soon after I’d given birth to my first daughter, I started reading the book, Babywise, which is a how-to-survive-being-a-first-time-parent-while-keeping-your-baby-alive book. An admirable woman successfully raising six boys had recommended it. With this praise from such a praiseworthy woman, it must be a good book, right?
Well, maybe it is for many people, but not for me. In my tired and overly emotional state, the standards and expectations set forth by the author felt overwhelmingly impossible. But what could I do? If I didn’t follow those practices I would surely fail in my role as a mother. The first few chapters had me in tears. I couldn’t be this type of mother who was held in such high esteem. My husband, after observing me in desperate, self-deprecating sobs one day, finally managed to convince me to put the book down and never look at it again.
Was the problem with the book, or was it with me? Or maybe the problem came when I compared myself to the author (and the woman who’d recommended the book) and subsequently judged myself to be a horrible mother who was falling short of those standards.
Effects of Value-based Comparison
Most of the comparisons we make involve superlatives—greater than, less than, louder, quieter.
Perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad if we stopped there.
“She is more talkative than I am.”
It’s a simple observation. Fact: she talks more, while I listen more.
But we don’t usually leave it at that. Instead, we tend to attach values to those observations.
“She is more talkative than I am and is therefore more likeable.”
“She is more organized and is therefore a better mother.”
“She is more beautiful, and this makes her a better woman.”
What happens to our mentality and emotions when we think this way?
First, we mentally compete against those we meet, essentially pitting ourselves against them.
If we come out on the “less than” side of things, we feel terrible about ourselves and resent the one who is “better than.” We also lose sight of the strengths we do possess as we spiral down into a void of self-pity.
If we come out on the “better than” side, we may feel momentarily great as we bask in our superiority over another human , but this superiority can turn to hate as we start to despise the other person’s weakness.
The more we compare ourselves with others, the harder it becomes to maintain healthy relationships. How can you be a good friend to someone you resent or despise?
So what’s the alternative? How do we step out of this unhealthy value-based comparison?
Lessons from Art
A painting class helped me put things into perspective.
It was called Canvas and Coffee. Like other paint-night classes, one could come, get a drink, select an easel, and follow the instructor’s step-by-step guidance for painting a pre-selected picture.
Now, I’m not an artist. I had touched paint to canvas once before and had by no means been pleased with the result. This time, much to my relief, I was able to trace the pattern, and then focus the rest of the time on painting.
I was attending this event with my sister, who’s an artist. Though she wasn’t as familiar with acrylics, she had far more experience with mixing colors and applying various brush techniques.
It was easy to feel inferior to her based solely on her greater skill and coordination. Her hands seemed to flow over the canvas while mine felt clunky.
But then something happened. Somewhere in the process, I started to lose myself in the pure delight of painting. I no longer cared that her colors were smoothly blended while mine were coarse with vivid contrasts. What mattered was that my painting was coming forth from the joy within me. Plus, I was doing something I never thought I could do!
As the night wound down, I impulsively stuck the opposite end of my paintbrush into the yellow paint and scattered colorful dots in the brown center of the sunflower. Something about the effect made me smile. I loved how much brighter it made the painting. It was me—not the most skilled and smoothly polished, but bright and happy in its awkward chunkiness.
My sister and I started off with the same pattern and worked with the same colors. Our finished products, however, were very different. And that was good.
I realized how very good and beautiful two paintings can look in their unique differences.
How much are we like those paintings?
While I believe God set forth standards for right and wrong in the Bible, I also believe that within those outlines, He’s given us tremendous freedom to live out the fullness of the beautiful and unique people He created us to be.
What if, instead of judging myself lesser than the author of Babywise, I had simply acknowledged I wasn’t her and recognized that her system wouldn’t work for me.
What if, instead of basing our value on how we compare to others, we chose to appreciate who God made us to be? What if we rejoiced in the skills and uniqueness of others while also recognizing and appreciating our qualities? How much would our lives and friendships change?
Next Week: Combatting Comparison Part 2 – how to turn comparison into opportunities to encourage yourself and others