At some point in each of our lives, we’ve been subject to comparison. We are tempted to evaluate how we square up with our classmates, co-workers, tradesmen, artisans, or fellow bachelor/bachelorette. While the job interview is ideally an opportunity to present a better picture of each applicant, inevitably the employer must choose the worker who stands apart from the rest. We are bred, formed, and defined by means of comparison.
My wife has mentioned how toxic this can be in a society where first impressions not only make a lasting impression, but can lead to a dismissive one as well. While we met through the dredge of online dating, we acknowledge that the format lends itself too dismissive to be fair or accurate. As we scroll through hundreds of profiles, we may pass over eighty that do not immediately meet our basic understanding of attraction, thus missing the key element that has led to more stable and tested relationships: time. An attraction (or other evaluation) that is not permitted to grow or evolve can be easily categorized or discarded.
Perhaps the most difficult comparison to eliminate are those established within our own homes. When I first began working with kids, I read a few volumes on birth order. Most of what I found was garbage — much was said about the difference between oldest and youngest children, with little helpful insight about the middle-child-syndrome, other than to expect some lumps. Aside from being a simplistic take (and knowing as many well-adjusted middle children as others), no family structure is created equal. However, one overarching truth remains: it’s difficult not to compare.
Of the hundreds of nicknames received in my youth, one of the first I remember was from my aunt, who endearingly called me “motormouth.” It wasn’t hurtful or undeserved, but it still requires context. My older brother was a child of fewer words. I’m stating it mildly here; though like many introverts, the appropriate setting opens him up a good deal. On the surface, it was easy to understand why I gained the reputation as a never-ending source of discourse. Because family members, teachers, and coaches all had interactions with my brother prior to encountering my more audacious personality, it’s no surprise that either of us were subject to statements of comparison… to which I always contend, he had first dibs on words and I simply seized the rest.
Long after my diapers were swapped for underoos, these differences were coupled by a younger sibling’s desire to belong. I wasn’t only the youngest kid in my household; for the most part, I was the youngest boy in our neighborhood circle. A three to four year gap would separate me from the next set of kids, so it wasn’t unusual to tag along and wind up getting hurt. Perhaps this unconsciously led me to an adulthood where I’ve almost exclusively fell in with people younger than myself, but I think the evolution is more complex. (More on that after these messages.)
My taste in music, sports, and entertainment were shaped by these relationships. I was 15 before I purchased something that was solely for myself: meaning, not without the intent to share, but foreknowing that my brother would have no interest in it. Previously, we had shared everything from sports cards to hair rock to magazines. It took some time to discover and accept that I was more Boyz II Men than Pearl Jam at that state of my life. Comparisons begin to dissipate as comfort settles the score. There was a time when I felt I needed to defend what I was or wasn’t. My maturing process featured a heavy dose of beginning to love my differences.
A good friend said to me, “Humility is not a matter of lowering oneself to be less than God sees you, but seeing yourself accurately in His eyes, whatever direction that means.” I must succumb to the reality that mankind is not my hero or adversary: the only comparison worth making is between me and spirit-filled me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a pendulum swing of discovery. My pride places me on a pedestal, only for the world to kick me in the teeth and inform me that I’m the lowest of scum. Somewhere among that is the truth, and within that truth is humility. I’d like to believe I’ve found some in this life, and it guides my comfort with His creation.