We are always comparing – this with that, my body with their body, my habits with their habits, my life with their life, my choices with their choices, my experiences with their experiences.
Comparisons are natural. They can even be beneficial. They can help us to understand things. They can help us to make better choices. They can help us to see new perspectives. They can help us relate. When we’re having a bad day, comparisons can help us to find gratitude for what we have and let go of our suffering.
But comparisons can also be toxic. We sometimes use comparisons to invalidate someone’s experiences. We all know what I mean – we compare ourselves to others and feel like we are somehow less than because we don’t have what they have or we feel like we shouldn’t feel the way we do, because they don’t.
These comparisons are even more toxic when it’s someone else comparing your experience and deciding that yours isn’t valid. All these comparisons do is make someone feel as though they have no right to feel the way that they do.
At work the other day, I asked someone if a policy in our manual was being updated. I was hoping that there would finally be changes to it, so that they could reprint the section and fix some annoying formatting. The section currently started in the middle of the page, rather than the top. As someone who likes order and consistency, my mind said, “This isn’t right. It needs to be fixed” every time I flipped past that page. It was a minor concern, absolutely, and I expected a simple yes or no answer based on that concern.
Instead, I was thrown off when she responded with, “It’s just a blank page. Some people don’t get to eat breakfast.” I thought to myself: How can we compare people eating breakfast to fixing errors in a reference manual? Why is it even necessary to compare the two and invalidate my concern, because there are more serious, and unrelated concerns out there?
While my experience of this reference manual was not a particularly distressful or significant event, it seeks to illustrate how society tends to compare people’s suffering. What happens when we start comparing people’s personal experiences to that of others? What happens when we make someone feel like what they’re feeling isn’t right because someone, somewhere has it worse?
But the reality is, someone, somewhere will always have it worse.
When you’re hungry, there will be someone, somewhere who is hungrier.
When you’re hurt, there will be someone, somewhere who hurts more.
When you’ve lost someone you love, there will be someone, somewhere who’s lost everyone they love.
We travel down a dangerous road when we seek to invalidate someone’s experience because it is somehow less serious than what someone else may be experiencing. We start to lose compassion and empathy for those around us. We start thinking that everyone has to feel the same or react the same. The thing is, we each have our own experiences that shape who we are and how we relate to the world. We are different. We feel what we feel based on these experiences and it isn’t fair for us to compare people’s experiences in terms of which one is more valid. They are all valid.
A few months ago, I had to say goodbye to my dog, who had been a part of my life for more than half of it. I miss her so much and to this day, I still feel that loss in my heart. She is often on my mind, but I don’t talk about it. I don’t talk about it, because someone, somewhere has it worse. I don’t talk about it, because I don’t want to hear someone say, “She was just a dog” and compare my loss to someone else’s. I am not someone else and to me, she was so much more than just a dog. We each have our own experience of loving and losing. There is no need to compare mine to yours. They are different and that is okay, because we are different.
I challenge all of you to remember this as you go about your day and your week and your years. We are each travelling our own path and seeing the world through our own experiences. I challenge each of you to accept and love the people around you for who they are and support them wherever they are, because regardless of what is happening to others out there, this is their experience, and it is real.