The Comparison Conundrum

From an early age, we’re taught about comparisons. In elementary school, we’re expected to spot the difference between various images, which gives us the foundation we need to identify letters, numbers, and so forth. The world is full of differences, so naturally, we need comparisons as a way to help us understand them.

Isn’t it true, however, that we could form comparisons long before academia points them out to us? Even when we’re little tots, we grasp for something we see another person holding. Why? Our tiny minds realize we have a deficiency compared to the other person. That ability only grows stronger with development, as we begin to comprehend the variety of others’ attributes and skills that we ourselves don’t possess.

Being born with a disability, I’ve been surrounded by comparisons my whole life, drawing them myself and having them drawn about me. Of course, my Cerebral Palsy was discovered based on comparisons, with my family and doctors observing how my progress didn’t measure up to that of other babies my age. Before long, I became aware of my inability to do activities my peers could do, and it was impossible for me not to compare myself to them. My first few years of school were fraught with feelings of inadequacy and frustration due to my own natural comparisons.

With maturity and experience, however, I came to appreciate the fact that we each have our individual strengths. I may not have had much success on the playground, but I excelled in the classroom. That gave me joy, and through the years, I’ve learned how much it helps to shift my focus from what others can do that I can’t to what I can do…sometimes even better than them. Since we rarely know what people wish they could do better, we need to realize they might long to have our strengths or circumstances as much as we yearn to have theirs.

Besides our different skills, we also can’t underestimate how our experiences vary. This whole crazy year has spotlighted that. In many ways, we’ve all faced similar challenges, but I have yet to find someone who’s dealing with them exactly as I am. And that’s okay! Even so, it’s an important fact to remember in order to keep good relations. Why?

For starters, something may work out well for us that doesn’t work for others.  If we aren’t careful, we could find ourselves becoming pushy, often because we want to help people. Or, perhaps we had a negative experience and want to warn or spare our companions that trouble. While a word of caution might be justified and appreciated, we shouldn’t expect everyone to handle a situation like we would. Maybe they’ll meet with a better outcome, and our advice only added to their worry.

All this said, one positive that can come out of comparisons is that they can spawn empathy. Everybody needs to be shown empathy and to display it to their fellow man. When we go through shared experiences, it makes it easier to understand others’ feelings and let that govern how we treat them. Conversely, if we see that some among us don’t have the advantages we do, we should be compelled to lend a hand if we can, rather than just note the contrast. The key to that is cultivating such fellow feeling in the heart instead of the mind. The mind has the tendency to be a “know-it-all” (pun intended). On the contrary, the heart can break down differences, turning comparisons into compassion.  

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In this Together?

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