April 19, 2024
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April 19, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Some time ago I was invited to attend a social evening at someone’s home. In searching for an appropriate word to call this particular event, the participants settled on “salon.”

There was a guest of honor, you might say, who presented a sort of workshop of art and self-discovery. It was enjoyable due to the people involved, the program, and the insights, some surprising, that I gained. However, there was a discussion that arose that left me somehow disturbed and that has been taking up some time and space in my brain.

The workshop presenter spent some time talking about comparisons and, in general, how they are usually a negative thing to engage in. How it is that, usually, we end up feeling diminished when we compare ourselves to others and that it is so much healthier to accept ourselves for who we are and what it is we have to bring to this world. I wholeheartedly agreed with her, believing that when we compare ourselves we often do so with people who, by virtue of the fact that we even know who they are, are much much better than we could ever hope to be (i.e., my tennis stroke to Serena Williams’s, my singing to Josh Groban, my culinary skills to Julia Child’s. Well, you get the idea).

I related some incidents from my experiences as an administrator in Early Childhood programs, illustrating how, even at very early ages, children begin to see themselves as “lesser” when, first, their parents compare them (negatively) to others and, later, when they, absorbing the technique, begin to do it to themselves.

One of the men objected by saying “I believe competition is very good, healthy, in fact. This discussion took off and that is when I felt confused, because I, too, believe competition can be healthy. However, what I came to realize as I reflected on the discussion is that my confusion and sense of disturbance arose from the fact that he was equating competition with comparisons when they are, indeed, two separate issues.

So, how and why is competition healthy? Competition is usually entered into voluntarily. The implication, at least, is that each individual feels as qualified and as competent as the others. Often, it is the competition itself that will encourage the participants to search for and discover qualities and abilities that would otherwise lay dormant. We, in other words, strive to bring out the best in ourselves in order to make it to the “winner’s circle.” Sometimes we can compete even when we know we can’t win in the traditional sense, as in the New York City Marathon when an entrant with multiple sclerosis enters just to prove she can do it. Although she’s the last to cross the finish line, she does so as a hero. We can also, as this woman may be doing, compete against ourselves, trying to better a previous record. But, again, the choice is ours, made freely. And, finally, no matter the outcome, we can feel pleased that we tried, that we put forth effort, that we were willing to “put ourselves out there.” Comparisons, however, are quite different.

Just by using the word comparison, we are implying one is greater, one is lesser. And this goes for whichever dimension is being compared: looks, intelligence, athletic prowess, any ability or talent. In other words, in every situation one of the subjects is being put down. What makes it more sinister, though, is that the person who is being put down most often never asked to be involved in the first place. It is the parent, the teacher, the coworker, whoever, who decided to create this “seesaw” (one up, one down) and put the two bodies on it. And that is one of the reasons it feels so bad. In fact, it reminds me of a phrase a participant shared with me during a seminar: “what you think of me is none of my business.” If only we could always defend ourselves by stating or even just thinking this when uninvited comparisons are made!

The solution, again, is to recognize and acknowledge the positives in ourselves, the gifts we do enjoy, and for parents and educators to do the same with those in their care. A great deal of the beauty and intrigue of the universe lies in the uniqueness of each one of us. Learning to emphasize strengths and the understanding that we can’t be capable in everything we might try, is, in itself, a very great gift.

Nancy Silverman Zweibach can be contacted via http://www.thepsychspeaks.com

By Nancy Silberman Zwiebach

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