The Comparing Game.Escape The Comparing Paradigm And Be Your True Self (2015)
Chapter 3: It’s ok to Be Different
Comparison is a manifestation of the thought process; it is an aspect of human behaviour. Being a fairly common occurrence within the human psyche, it is also unquantifiable. Most of the time, we aren’t aware of the fact that we are marking ourselves up against something or someone. There is no way to comprehend why people are prone to comparing themselves with those around them, but it is understandable why people feel the need to do so. Ultimately, it comes down to the realization that everyone is different.
Every individual on this planet, regardless of how many similarities they may have with others, is essentially completely unique. From fingerprints and DNA to personality and idiosyncrasies, we all have that one trait that sets us apart. The anomaly within this realization is that most people are intimidated and uncomfortable with their own originality. As we discussed in Chapter 2, society places more value on categorising people according to similarities, rather than on appreciating them for their differences.
This is where the Comparing Game begins and the point where people forget that it is okay to be different. From the day we are born, our lives take us all down different paths and all individuals on this planet have a unique history and background that moulds them into the person they become. Our thoughts and opinions are based on our own experiences.
According to research done by a group of German behavioural psychologists at the University of Oxford in England, the key to understanding why people are not comfortable with themselves lies in identifying who they compare themselves to. Scientists at the university proposed that we compare ourselves to everyone, but most frequently to those we want to imitate in some way or the other. Based on such assumptions, we can delve deeper into ourselves by looking in to who it is we admire or envy the most. By gaining knowledge about those others, we begin to identify what it is within ourselves that we need to improve on.
However, the most important data that the German scientist's research yielded was that in all such situations of social comparison, people forget that there is more to the story. Essentially, everyone forgets that individuals constantly evaluate themselves against people from different backgrounds and from different places. Certain people may attain similar things in life, but the stories behind how they get there could be drastically different.
4 Most Common Factors
Based on research results, here are the 4 factors that most greatly affect differences in life standing between individuals over a wide scale of race, age, and social status.
1- Nationality & Country of Residence:
Where we are raised has a massive impact on the life we go on to lead. Research and modern society dictate that individuals born into middle class families in a developed nation are accustomed to a much higher quality of life than those born into developing nations. The opportunities presented to people within a safe and productive environment potentially have more opportunities to grow as an individual.
2- Educational Background:
That is not to say simply university or college education, but all forms of education starting from primary school. The path toward formal education begins in pre-school. What languages students speak, how well they write, and how developed their scholastic skills are may all be important factors in determining how a person’s life eventually turns out. It is also very common for parents to provide their children with a similar education and pass down their own values among generations.
Degrees and formal education play a huge role in professional society today. A university graduate will be deemed more valuable by the modern world as compared to a high school dropout. Regardless of natural talent, personality, or ambition, an individual with a better education may have more doors open for them as compared to anyone with less to offer.
3- Financial Background:
Possibly the most common source of comparison and the most common difference between everyone is how much money they have. People most frequently compare themselves with those who they think are richer, drive better cars or live in better houses.
However, they forget to take into account that some people come from money, and others come into money. Individuals born into wealthy families with trust funds never have to worry about gainful employment as compared to those from middle class backgrounds. Needless to say, financial backgrounds affect everything else too; education, class status and even appearance.
Teenage girls from conventionally lower class families often have self-esteem issues because they compare themselves to more beautiful, rich girls. They often don’t take into account that with money comes options. Wealthier people have more access to resources, resources that buy them the products and services to enhance and supplement to what is natural. A teenage girl may believe another girl to be more attractive, when in fact; the other girl may simply be able to afford more expensive accessories.
4- Emotional Background:
Possibly the most important factor of all. The reason we compare ourselves to others is essentially because we feel and think everything around us relative to ourselves. That is also how we grow up and become the unique specimens that we are. People that grow up in a nurturing and stable background usually develop high self-esteem and confidence. They aim for more and are comfortable challenging themselves. However, research in sociology done at the University of Iowa in 2004 suggests that nearly 60% of the global population experiences certain incidents in their earlier life that go on to greatly affect their personal, professional and financial endeavours.
A successfully employed, married man from a big family is an unfair comparison to a middle class man raised in an abusive foster home. The incident, trauma and happenings of their lives would be too different for them to be able to compare themselves to each other. It is possible that the middle class man would consider himself a ‘failure’ compared to the employed, married one. It would be important to consider that his own difficult history plays a major role in the difficulties he may have today as compared to someone else.
Of course, of our 4 factors, we forget that there is one major aspect of all our personalities that makes us different, natural affinity and talent. It is also the most special thing about us, and the reason we must never resort to comparing ourselves with others. Everybody has specific strengths and weaknesses that give them or rid them of the ability to do certain things. We constantly compare ourselves to people with better jobs, but we do not realize that while our job may pay less, we may still be the perfect candidate to do it. A struggling artist may consider themselves less important than a banker, but he might not realize that he has a talent that the banker does not, and that the banker may have a talent that he lacks.
An excellent example of this is the modern modelling industry. In a Ted X conference in 2012, American model Cameron Russell addressed the fact that women all around the world consider themselves ‘less pretty’ than famous models. Russell talked about having won a ‘genetic lottery’ that developed her capacity to model. She said that since models are generally supposed to be extra tall and slim, the odds of a woman becoming a successful model depend almost entirely on genes. No matter how naturally gifted or attractive a 5 foot 3inches girl is, she will have fewer chances of being selected as a model and it would be highly erroneous of her to spend her life considering herself plain or unattractive compared to the women whose only advantage over her may be genetic.
Most of the generic comparisons that humans make with each other are devoid of logic. We never take into account the unique skills we have. Self-appreciation can only be determined by self-introspection. We cannot spend our lives giving ourselves a hard time over things that are ultimately meaningless. In order to rid ourselves of a tendency to compare (and fall short), we must recognize that it’s okay to be different and that our differences are what make each of us valuable.
John Kabat-Zinn said, “Life on earth is a whole, yet it expresses itself in unique time-bound bodies, microscopic or visible, plant or animal, extinct or living. So there can be no one place to be. There can be no one way to be, no one way to practice, no one way to learn, no one way to love, no one way to grow or to heal, no one way to live, no one way to feel, no one thing to know or be known. The particulars count.”