Millennials of the Indian subcontinent have grown up hearing about the exceptional Sharma Ji ka beta (Sharma uncle’s son), who excels at everything–is the best son ever, who eats, sleeps, wakes up on time–and is basically diamond-studded, while all the other kids dull in comparison to his shine. Comparison to Sharma Ji ka beta was a source of constant unrest as millennials were growing up.
Meanwhile, men and women all over the world have complained of being pushed to compete, courtesy the infinite number of beauty pageants, which for years have required people to adhere to inhumane, inflexible and impossible standards of beauty. Comparison, evil’s favourite minion, appears to be at work again.
Yet, another form of comparison is in the guise of social networking where people use a sweet system of counting the likes, loves, and upvotes to establish their self-worth. Social comparisons occur ceaselessly on networking websites as people spend hours advertising the best version of themselves.
Who is the best?
She is thin, I am fat; he is muscular, I am underweight; she is rich and popular, I am poor and unknown; he is brainy, I have low IQ; she is gorgeous, I am ugly–one of the activities we regularly indulge in, and ironically without any bias, is comparing.
It is believed people rely on comparisons to assess their own beliefs, skills and abilities. In 1954, Leon Festinger proposed the Social Comparison Theory, according to which human beings have an innate need to evaluate themselves and they do so by comparing themselves to others. There are two ways in which we compare: Upward Comparison and Downward Comparison. Upward is when we compare ourselves to those we think are better than us, downward is comparing ourselves to those who we think are doing worse than us. For instance, a dancer might compare himself with the leader of the dance troupe to evaluate his own skills. In this case of upward comparison, he would be driven to improve his abilities. The leader on the other hand could be downward comparing himself to a dancer in the group, hence, feeling better about his own skills and himself.
“We compare about everything ranging from how we look to the things we possess and the jobs we have. To a certain extent it helps us in assessing but more often than not, it perpetuates jealousy, pride and other feelings. For example, someone comparing their job might perceive their job to be less attractive than their friend’s. This perception and not just the mere comparison could lead to suffering. If comparison ends at observation, it causes no harm. In fact, non-judgmental observation is preferred. Making judgement is detrimental,” says Dr Kishor Adhikari, Professor of Psychology at Christ University.
In a way, comparison is a mechanism to evaluate where one stands in terms of abilities, and is not wrong in this aspect at all. The problem arises when we don’t draw lines or make unfair comparisons. Indulging in or being subjected to unnecessary comparisons can leave one feeling inadequate. The horrors of comparison are subtle–resentment, loss of precious time, self-deprecating thoughts to name a few–but horrors nonetheless. Have a look at some.
The endless race
There are infinite possibilities and innumerable ways in which we can compare. As we assess ourselves against others, we come to conclusions, only to refute those conclusions in another round of comparison. It’s an endless race with no finish line. We lose time and energy and gain nothing out of it. So assess, but do not make a habit out of it.
The only kind of comparison that is beneficial is the one we have with ourselves.