The Comparison Game (Part I)

The Mindless Chatter

‘I make more money than him.  I own a home and he doesn’t.  I still have my hair and he’s losing his.  I drive a Lexus and he drives a Camry.  I have advanced further in my career than him.  She looks older than me.  I have kids and she doesn’t.  I have a husband and she doesn’t.  I don’t like her wedding dress.  I wouldn’t have picked those flowers.  My kid has a 4.0 GPA and her kid struggles.  My kid was admitted to better schools; got a scholarship.  My kid is a great athlete and his isn’t.  My kid is smarter than his.’  It goes on and on.  Most likely we have all had similar thoughts, participating in the great and terrible comparison game. 

Much of the dialogue occurs mindlessly, part of our everyday lives, unconsciously effecting our mood and perhaps our personalities.  The comparison game works well for those who are smart, beautiful, and athletic; those who excel in the categories that culturally we prioritize.  However, those who are less intelligent, attractive, and athletic often struggle with confidence, self-esteem, and self-worth. 

How the Comparison Game Impacts our Lives

The counterargument is that these categories of personal qualities are too limited; that everyone has their own set of unique strengths that balances and equates; everyone is valued equally; through our shared humanity we are all worthy and deserving of love.  While I agree wholeheartedly, these admirable sentiments are in part born of an aspirational ideal that reflects the best version of ourselves, rather than a less romantic cultural reality where some qualities are more highly prioritized.

For example, we don’t value academic achievement and emotional selflessness the same; even if we believe we should.  Academic success is greeted with tangible recognition; public praise, degrees, awards, etc., while emotional generosity is acknowledged more quietly.  Belief is separate from action and here they are misaligned.  While we may believe and say that emotional generosity is of equal import, we more actively validate other strengths like academic success, athletic achievement, wealth, power, and beauty.  And if belief and action are asynchronous, emotional states of individuals will separate based on how we act.  The marginalized can’t be intellectually bargained out of their self-image based on our collective words and belief; it’s based on years of seemingly countless signals that taught them to feel less valued.  They won’t feel differently because of what we say we believe. Therefore, they need to feel worth from our collective actions; lending credence to the familiar adage that actions speak louder than words.

The Comparison Game: Part 2