Thoughts compare. It’s one of the things this tool is built to do.
Comparing is essential. It helps us differentiate. Find better solutions. See ourselves in perspective. Identify areas where we can develop and learn more. And so on. It’s necessary for us to function and thrive in the world.
And yet, if we assume this says something about our inherent value as a human being, we lead ourselves astray. We create stress and anguish for ourselves, and also participate in a culture where this is seen as normal and creates widespread – and unnecessary – stress and anguish for a lot of people.
In the moment, we may tell ourselves it feels good when we compare ourselves to others and come out favorably. We tell ourselves we are better than someone else in a particular area of life, that this means we are inherently better or valuable, and that we can then allow ourselves to feel good about ourselves.
But it’s not that simple. When we get into the habit of this dynamic, we inevitably find someone to compare ourselves with who – in our mind – is better than us, and assume this means our inherent value is diminished or threatened, which means we feel not very good about ourselves.
We can’t have one without the other.
This means it’s a losing game. It’s rigged for us to lose. And that’s a very good thing.
Why is it a losing game?
It’s because this extra assumption has no real value. It’s a way for us to torture ourselves and others. And it’s not based in reality.
The ideas we have about better and worse are cultural. And the idea that this means something about our inherent value is cultural. They are not inherent in existence.
At some point, we may realize that this dynamic is not only painful, but it’s also not inevitable. There is another way.
How can we find another way?
The answer is through becoming aware of this dynamic of comparing ourselves to others and assuming it says something about our inherent value. The most direct and effective way may be through inquiry (The Work of Byron Katie, Living Inquiries, etc.). And inquiry can also help release our fascination with this type of comparing.
What’s the bigger perspective on this?
We can say that this whole dynamic is cultural. The ideas of better and worse, and what is better and worse, is cultural. And the idea that this says something about our inherent value is cultural.
We can say it’s as a(n unfortunate) side-effect of the differentiating function of thought.
And we can also say it’s part of lila. It’s one of the myriads of ways what we are explores and experiences itself – whether we call this consciousness, existence, or even the divine.
From the perspective of a separate human being, it’s unfortunate. From the perspective of existence itself, it’s part of its exploration of itself.
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We can also say it comes as a(n unfortunate) side-effect of the differentiating function of thought. We need thoughts, and the differentiating function of thought, to orient, survive, and thrive. It’s a small step to add an assumption of better and worse. And if our culture encourages it, it’s another small step to assume this says something about our inherent value. And it’s yet another small step to assume these assumptions reflect something inherent in others and ourselves.