When I teach my composition students how to write compare/contrast papers, I always start by discussing the possible reasons WHY (purpose) they would need to write this type of paper
- We write compare/contrast essays to show one thing as being superior to another thing
- We write compare/contrast essays to explain and support a generalized statement.
- We write compare/contrast essays to make a complex subject matter more easily understood (such as analogies).
Too often, we look at the lives of others with the purpose of determining superiority. Of course, we don’t SAY that is our intent. But the way that we process, store, and use the information reveals our purpose. This is the type of comparing that leads to the “Comparison Trap” discussed by Rebecca Webber of Psychology Today (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/articles/201711/the-comparison-trap). When we view the lives of others, often through social media, we see this other person living a life that looks and feels superior to our own, and we wonder why our lives aren’t like that. Discontentment, jealous, and coveteousness are the products of this type of comparison. We forget that social media only presents a limited view, and that view is often manipulated to be as pretty as possible. We forget that every person is struggling with something, normally something they won’t post for public viewing. We focus only on what our narrow view reveals, and often we decide we don’t stack up.
Maybe that’s not you. Maybe you look at others around you and think, “Yeah, I’m doing really good. I’m definitely doing better than that guy over there.” Can I be honest with you? That’s not any better. The purpose of the comparison is still to establish superiority, and that is still detrimental to our relationships with others.
Whether the result is discontentment and jealousy, or pride and vanity, healthy relationships cannot thrive in this type of comparison. Sadly, this mentality permeates our churches and undermines the unity of the church and its ability to reach others.
What if we changed the purpose? What if we stopped looking at others to figure out whose life is better? What if we looked for ways to connect and serve instead?
While Philippians 2 is not directly addressing detrimental comparisons, the language he uses certain relates to the “Comparison Trap.”
Philippians 2:3-4 – Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. (HCSB)
The New Living Translation paraphrases it this way: “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.”
Paul is promoting unity. We achieve unity by uplifting others and prioritizing others. Notice that Paul doesn’t say, “Let each of you look out for the interests of others only and forget to take care of yourselves.” The idea is not that someone is more important, valuable, worthy, etc. The idea is that we all need each other. We need to put aside our inner competition for the most perfect Instagram post, and focus on building others up instead.
We need to be of one mind, of one purpose.
If I compare my circumstances to someone else’s with the intent of proving that my situation is more extreme, important, praiseworthy, etc., then the result will be a divide in the relationship.
If I compare my circumstances to someone else’s with the intent of understanding them better, learning from their experiences, or providing them insight that I have learned, then the result is going to be a closer relationship with that person.
If I compare myself physically with another woman, using her appearance as the criteria for what I should look like, then the likely result will be jealousy or a sense of rivalry. I am going to have a hard time building a friendship with that woman.
If I let God’s word be my standard for beauty, then I can celebrate the diversity in God’s design without feeling threatened or “less than” by others.
Rather than producing division, let’s purpose to let our similarities and differences connect us more deeply with one another.