So how did you shape up against the “Average Australian” as described by the Australian Bureau of Statistics last week? Average Woman – you are 161.8cm tall, you weigh 71.1kg and your waistline is 87.7cm. Average Man – you are 175.6cm tall, you weigh 85.9kg and your waistline is 97.9cm.
If you reckon you didn’t compare your own figures against the above, you’re lying. For some, the stats were an ego boost, for others it was a wee wake-up call to hit the gym with a bit more gusto. For me, it confirmed what I have always known: I’m a shorty.
If comparisons inspire you to better yourself – well and good. But the reality for many is that comparisons cultivate feelings of self-deprecation. Test yourself. Do you feel better when you encounter other peoples’ failures? When you see someone you calculate as being somehow ‘better’ than yourself, does it make you feel;
a) Intimidated or threatened,
b) Small and useless,
c) Jealous, or
d) Fine. You can acknowledge their ‘better’ qualities and celebrate with them.
If you answered a, b and/or c, you’re like a fair chunk of society who have an issue with insecurity. American pastor Steven Furtick explains it like this: “One reason we struggle with insecurity is we’re comparing our behind-the-scenes to everyone else’s highlights reel.”
We look at the ‘perfect family’: well-mannered kids with designer clothes and clean faces, svelte mum, muscled dad, mini mansion in the ‘burbs, private schooling and successful careers. Sigh. But we don’t see the marriage problems, the mortgage stress and the tantrums at dinner time. We look at the success of others and wish it were us. Yet rarely do we consider the hard work behind the scenes, the commitment, the sacrifices and the disappointments along the way.
Our focus is solely on that highlights reel.
And when comparisons consume us, there’s not a whole lot of room for allowing our own dreams to take flight. As Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t – you are right.”
When I look to the Bible for encouragement through insecurity, it’s there in abundance. God made us a wonderfully diverse lot and he knows how debilitating it can be to compare ourselves with others.
“So since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and marvelously functioning parts in Christ’s body, let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren’t,” Romans 12:6 says (The Message version).
And in Galatians 6:4, on a more practical note, “Let everyone be sure that he is doing his very best, for then he will have the personal satisfaction of work well done, and won’t need to compare himself with someone else” (The Living Bible).
We’re our own worst enemy sometimes, and as journalist Sally Kempton once wrote, “It’s hard to fight an enemy who has outposts in your head.”
As printed in The Examiner newspaper for Keeping the Faith column, Monday November 6.