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Is Comparison Really the Thief of Joy?



Comparison as it's publicly referred is often met with either terrible feelings of inferiority, or even superiority. Much of the time, to combat these feelings, we throw around the quote "Comparison is the thief of joy" as a way of combating those feelings. The problem with this is that you may see any competition as not worth your time...and there is very much such a thing as healthy competition. Structured sports, rivalries, rankings, high scores are all ways of creating healthy competition that pushes us further if we're setting our sights on skill development. Goku and Vegeta, Yankees and Red Sox, Playoff sports, and playful bragging rights are all valid forms of comparison. Ways to push each other. There's an amazing Ted Talk by Caroline McHugh that focuses on identity and Individuality. In it, she talks about how we compare ourselves to others via superiority, inferiority, and interiority. That third one, interiority is about self-comparison and self-improvement. This is what allows for healthy competition. If we're actually superior, then it's not a competition but more of a massacre. We may be avoiding a vertical move to avoid rookie status. If we're feeling superior to someone but aren't, then we will do anything to lower the bar and destroy the competition to remain feeling superior. If we're actually inferior, then again it's not much of a competition and we need to seek competition at the appropriate skill level. We may need to take a step back or we find a cheap cheat or short term shortcut to get ahead. If we're feeling inferior and we're not, we may avoid competition altogether and avoid any comparison for fear of validating inferiority. Interior awareness and strength is largely about knowing the reality of where to place yourself and how to start where you are. If Michael Jordan didn't move up to pros when he did, he may have not pushed himself in college as the competition was going to only get easier and henceforth not be much of a competition. When he got injured he went back down to college and worked his was back up. Knowing the accuracy of how you compare is just as important as the comparison itself. It defines the terms of comparison. The best athletes in the world are competing with themselves first and foremost. Other people, their rivals, are goal posts, obstacles, tests of skill...because, after all, you need something to work with, against, or toward. Even enemies serve a version of this purpose. The Romulans and Starfleet in Star Trek: The Next Generation are enemies because of how they compare in size, scope, firepower, territory, intelligence, etc. They're always working to match each other. Obviously, this is out of fear of outright war but because they're assessing themselves, their competition and the situation there is a sense of respect for each other's ability that doesn't lead to an outright attack. They remain in "healthy" non-destructive (not massively) competition. The only way each can keep the peace is by improving their own skill set to continue creating a counter-balance to their enemy. Even so, eventually these two will move on. One may surpass the other, one may get destroyed by a supernova. One may need to find new competition or struggle to move forward if they don't. This is the catch and release of comparison, moving up and down the rankings and in between different leaderboards of skills and specialities. Sometimes we can do this with our ideologies. We have something we stand for and something we don't. Awareness of how we compare helps to know what you can do to match or excell against it. Not to go to direct war with them and always be at the whim of them in a reactionary way but how you can respond in an authentic interior way by formulating your own thoughts, feelings or actions of what they're doing to channel it into your own mission. Comparison is a fork in the road for all of us regardless of what we do. Valid empowered comparison with someone of a similar skill level pushes you to be better. Rivalries push you. Invalid dramatic comparison leads to fearful destruction or outright avoidance of the game in an attempt to prove or retain conviction that you're something you're not. The point of competition is to develop skills alongside others to eventually find your own way. And you won't find your own way until you embrace the catch and release of comparison by means of some kind of healthy competition. -----


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