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Comparison

Comparison is the evil twin of disappointment.


I'm listening to the audio book of Mark Nepo's The Book of Awakening. I keep rewinding every couple of minutes to listen again - each phrase is a revelation. It's particularly lovely to have it read to me, in Mark Nepo's own voice. The cadence, tone, and rhythm of his voice is part of the message that the words carry -- a message that would be lost were I reading them myself.


The passage below, in particular, struck me today. We all suffer, needlessly, from the unique pain, senselessness, and ultimately the tragedy of comparison.


Comparison serves a purpose in a clan, a tribe, a culture. To cohere, and thereby to survive and thrive, a group must have norms, agreements, tacit or explicit social contracts. Imagine, for example, if we all drove our cars without any traffic rules. Chaos and death would ensue. Comparison is the internalized mechanism that keeps each one of us in alignment with these norms. At its best, it creates harmony, compassion, connection.


But once there is inequality -- and therefore hierarchy -- comparison serves a different function. It becomes a tool to keep everyone in their place in the order, so that those on top can stay on top. As long as we are comparing ourselves to someone who is richer, thinner, more famous, more "successful," we will be strivers rather than thrivers. The myriad systems of inequality that we humans have invented need strivers. They are the ones willing (or forced) to do the work that the more powerful would rather not do. Strivers, locked in the prison of comparison, will always see themselves as less-than. They will not question the norms -- capitalism, patriarchy, white supremacy, fat-phobia, homophobia, trans phobia, consumerism. They will be too busy trying to get to the next rung on the ladder of hierarchy. Lose weight. Make more money. Get the next promotion. Or, even more tragically, the world will be deprived of their gifts as they hide in plain sight, afraid of stigma, oppression, and even death at the hands of those who might hate them for being who they are.


At the individual level -- at an emotional and spiritual level -- comparison is agony. It's soul crushing. It's the enemy of peace, of creativity, of speaking your truth and finding your voice. You can never be enough as long as there is someone "better than" you to whom you are comparing yourself.


Comparison is essential to the maintenance of systems of hierarchy. Letting go of it -- recognizing it, calling it out, rejecting it in every moment -- is essential to our individual wholeness.