“Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?”
said the wicked queen in the fairy tale, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. That same wicked queen lives in our minds, and ever so often she appears in our thoughts. We keep comparing ourselves to others – our work, our titles, our income, our possessions, our families, our social profiles, our looks, some go even further to compare life’s situations and random events. With Facebook, we’ve turbo-charged our comparison radars to include far away folks and friends of friends too.
Most people will say it’s human nature to compare all the time. But this habit does not stop in a mere comparison. The mind will dwell on the comparison and declare a winner or a loser in each game of judgement. We often don’t stop at thinking alone. We google the person under trial, we look for counter evidence online or offline, we discuss it out with people who are in the same boat as us. A lot of productive energy is wasted in this process, and often we end up at the same place, losing time and gaining stress over something that is completely a figment of our comparative mind. Very few people use comparison as a tool to learn and evolve themselves for the better. In its most widespread form (in office work-spaces and community meetings), it is a tool for negative judgement, anxiety and gossip.
I’ve made some non-conventional choices when it comes to my work and my life, and when making those choices, I’ve had to shut out this comparative mind as it wants me to follow the herd, or run the race they’re running. This is what I’ve learned in the process.
99% of people that we encounter in everyday life are predictable and have similar mindsets. If they’re not part of the 99%, then you would notice something different about them and you would hesitate to compare yourself with them. Most people would stay away from them or treat them as harmless (i.e. don’t merit a comparison). I love to make friends with such outliers; people who stand out with their enthusiasm, their humility or their spiritual demeanor.
For the other 99%, I’ve stretched my comparison-seeking mind to do what it does best, but do it recursively i.e. imagine what the other person’s mind would be comparing itself to. If I feel like comparing myself to Person X, then I also imagine Person X doing a similar exercise in his mind, and often comparing himself to a Person Y who has something more than X in some dimension. I can visualize X fretting over his life and its flaws just because he noticed Y. And Y is fretting away too because of a person Z. Once you realize how X, Y and Z are all engaged in a similar mental anguish and crossing off checklists, you almost feel like laughing at yourself for joining this group of people, and for giving them mind space at all. What a waste of time and Life!
If the above approach does not work try this one: Take a pause and witness being a mere outsider to all the random events filled in the daily newspaper. Step outside your own life for a minute, and reflect on all the random happenings (good and bad) that got you and your family here. Can you fundamentally believe that the Universal Force that powers this Randomness can distinguish between any two people? Won’t they end up with the same share of randomly assigned ups and downs across different dimensions of their life? Does my judgement matter at all in this phenomenon? There is no duality, no good and bad, no winner and loser. There cannot be. With the complexity and unpredictability of Life that we see around us, there cannot be any planned differences between us, so why bother comparing.
Spiritual gurus teach that this judgmental mind is the top villain in any effort to achieve mindfulness and inner peace. Try stopping it using one of the above techniques. Stop it once, then twice, and slowly you would be able to stop it on demand. I’m practicing too.