The first day of my university’s mandatory chapel, our Student Body President addressed us. Beginning with a quirky poem he wrote, the senior smiled out at the rows of chair filled with bubbly theater majors, nervous freshman, yelling football players, and politely applauding faculty. Suddenly, the young man who we all looked up to paused for a moment before looking around with a serious expression.
“I want to tell you something important that I learned from someone else.” He stared out as if looking into each of the students’ eyes. “Comparison kills compassion. When you compare yourself to others, you no longer are able to reach out to them with love and compassion. Instead, you are stuck thinking about yourself and how you measure up compared to the people around you. I have been guilty of this and it needs to stop.”
All of my life, I have struggled with comparison. When you are raised with two sisters close in age, it isn’t difficult to slip into this way of thinking. After all, you are dressed similar, in the same activities, and have many shared traits. People are going to comment on how you are like your family or how you deviate from them. Even though my parents rarely compared us three, the pressure still built up as we grew and searched for our identities.
With my disorders, I have struggled greatly not to compare myself as well. Anorexia and compulsive over-eating both caused me to look at my body in relation to others. No matter what, I always saw myself as uglier, fatter, and less desirable. On the other hand, Aspergers distances me from those around me sometimes. Thus, I compare how I am acting to others so I can try to enter into social settings. Although comparison is a slippery slope with a lot of disadvantages, it has helped me to know how to behave normally at certain times. It is both a symptom and a coping skill, a parasite that drains out my strength and a tool that connects me to the rest of the world.
However, I had never heard it described as killing compassion until last Wednesday. As I sat in chapel and thought more about that idea, I realized how helpful it was to think about most comparison in that way. My mother often warns that when one judges themselves against others, they will either become prideful because they are better or hate themselves for not measuring up. Now, those are two extremes but when people compare, they often do fall into one of these two treacherous thought patterns. This made sense to me but I did not truly understand it until I heard my Student President speak.
Now, if you noticed, I wrote above that most – meaning not all – but most comparison operates this way. I have met enough people who comparing themselves to others but still try to care for everyone. However, I do believe that this habit that women in particular struggle with is a block to loving others and oneself. When we look to others and rate their traits, appearance, or accomplishments against ours, we fail to see that person as an unique individual. Also, we stop letting ourselves be us. Instead, we attempt to become better than others or at least equal to them. Instead of loving our individuality and respecting the distinctive beauty in others, we long for what we lack and overemphasize what we have. That indeed does kill compassion for others and ourselves.
I realized after this speech that comparison kills many more things as well. It squelches creativity, diversity, learning from others, teaching the wisdom that we have learned, and more. For girls with anorexia, one could even argue that comparison can literally take their life. This is more than a simple bad habit; comparing leads to much destruction and sorrow.
Yet there is hope. As we begin to love others for who they are and accept ourselves, we stop comparing and begin being compassionate. Instead of judging, we can observe, appreciate, discern, and admire. I do not want to be someone whose insecurity turns into a jealous monster that envies the talents and giftings of others. Instead, I want to be empathetic and wise, not foolishly trusting but openly loving. I encourage others to join me in replacing comparison with compassion. Together, we can begin to change our society into a more confident beautifuls place.