The comparison trap
In the world of individuals, comparison is a senseless activity,” Dr Wayne Dyer opines poignantly. He observes that it takes a great deal of self-confidence for people to consult their internal resources to determine what they want to do, and when people do not have that self-esteem, they use the only other standard available – comparisons with others, which virtually everyone is willing to use, because they are so effective in keeping folks in line. To get out of the trap of this constant comparison, you will have to develop a strong enough belief in yourself.
But first you will have to see that it is impossible to be like everyone else and still be your own person. Perhaps Ralph Waldo Emerson understood this better when in ‘Self-Reliance’ he said, “Whoso would be a man, must be a non-conformist. He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.”
Those are powerful words, Dr. Dyer believes, but they are not the most popular sentiments. ”Nonconformity is by definition not sanctioned by the majority of people, who as the majority set standards for conformity.
While blatant nonconformity simply for its own sake is not herein advocated, it is certainly important to look closely at yourself and your very personal aspirations, and appreciate the absurdity of running your life based on comparison with others. People who are interested in having you be as they are, or as they want you to be, will repeatedly remind you of how others are doing things to give you solid examples to follow. “Resist their suggestions, along with your own temptation to look outside yourself for models.”
YOU ARE UNIQUE IN
ALL THE WORLD
The first step out of the comparison trap is to realise that there is ONLY ONE YOU, and you take that you wherever you go. As the old maxim says, “Wherever I go, there I am.”
No one is even remotely like you in terms of your innermost feelings, thoughts, and desires. If you accept this notion, then you will want to take a hard look at why you would use anyone else’s example as a reason for your doing or not doing anything.
Our culture is composed of people (all unique themselves) who all too often are threatened by anyone who is different.
We use things like “normal curves” in our classrooms to decide who is “fitting in” and who is not. We use standardized instruments to measure everything about people, in pursuit of the sacred “average.” Frederick Crane once said, “Mediocrity finds safety in standardization.” Yet despite all the pressures on you and the constant reminders that you must be the way other people are, you can never, ever do it. You will still perceive, think, and feel in your own way. “If you understand the motivation of others using external references, which is solely to control your behaviour, and exercise power over you, then you can begin putting a halt to this form of victimization.”
THE CONCEPT OF EXISTENTIAL ALONENESS
In addition to realizing that you are unique in this world, you must also accept that you are always alone. No one can ever feel what you are feeling, whether hundreds of thousands of surround you people or making love with one or by yourself in a room.
Your inevitable “existential aloneness” simply means that your human existence is unavoidably predicated on your being alone with your own unique feelings and thoughts.
Dr Dyer believes that your recognition of your existential aloneness can either be very freeing or highly enslaving depending upon what you choose to do with it. But in either case, you will not ever change it. However, you CAN CHOOSE to make it a freeing experience by making it work for you.
It is often futile to try to get anyone to be with you internally, that while people can share many things, and get very close to each other, the plain truth is they can only know each other superficially. “Their inner beings are strictly off limits by virtue of their very humanity.”
Existential aloneness can be a source of great strength as well as a source of big trouble. Whenever you even get tempted to use other people’s lives as models of how you should run your own, think of this line by Henrik Ibsen, “The strongest man in the world is he who stands most alone.”
Dr Dyer cautions that you can interpret this as an antisocial, selfish attitude, if that is what you wish to do – or you can look hard at what is dictated by the parameters of your own reality. “The fact is that people who have has the greatest impact on mankind, who have helped the greatest number of people are those who have consulted their own inner feelings, rather than doing what everyone else said they should do.”
In this context, strength means being able to stop trying to get everyone else to feel what you are feeling, and stand up for what you believe.
Internally we are islands unique unto ourselves, and that coming to grips with that idea will help all of us build bridges to others, rather than erecting barriers by being upset when we see that others are not like us.
THE DESTRUCTIVE ART OF SELF-COMPARISON
Once you have gained the above-mentioned insights, however, you will have to contend with the fact that you have very likely become highly adept at the self-comparison game.
“It is virtually a universal malady, afflicting all but the staunchest of resisters. People are taught by our culture always to look outward for their behavioral cues and consequently “comparison vision” dictates most of judgments.
How do you know that you are intelligent? You compare yourself to others. How do you know you are stable? Attractive? Worthy? Happy? Successful? Fulfilled? By checking out how others around you are doing and then deciding where you fit on the comparison scale.
You may even be at the point where you cannot see any alternatives for self-judgment besides measuring yourself by “common standards.” But indeed, so believes Dr
Dyer, you are ignoring a much more important barometer for your self-measurements, which is your own satisfaction with the way your life is going.
You do not have to look outside yourself for self-assessment. How do you know you are intelligent? Because you say and know you are, because you can do the things you want to do.
“This self-comparison game is deadly because in it your measurements of yourself are always controlled by something outside you which you in turn cannot possibly regulate. The game robs you of any internal security, since you can never be sure how others will judge you.”
Comparing yourself can be very seductive, since it eliminates all the risks that go with standing alone. You can generate a lot more superficial “acceptance” by comparing yourself to others and working at being more like them.
If you happen to end up doing things the way many other people are doing them, there is certainly nothing wrong with that. But if you have to look to the other people to decide what you should be doing, then you are definitely caught in the self-comparison victim trap.
Ultimately, Dr Dyer advises that, you should use your own inner “common sense” when it comes to deciding what you want, without needing to be like everyone else – if only because you are a unique person and could not be “just like all the others” even if you really wanted to be.
Albert Einstein once reported, “Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.” If you want to achieve your own greatness, to climb your own mountains, you will have to use yourself as your first and last consultant. The only alternative is for you to listen to the violent opposition of virtually everyone you encounter.
BY CAPT SAM ADDAIH (RTD)