Columnist’s Note: I hope you’ll take a few weeks to journey with me through a series (oh no, not again!) I’m dubbing, “Virtue or Vice?” We will take a look at some common traits of the human condition and weigh their merits vs. their follies to determine whether they are of benefit or consequence to our existence. And what more appropriate topic to begin than comparison.
If I take a bite of a juicy, red apple and you peel and eat a slice of an orange, I can’t very well tell you my apple tastes better. First, I haven’t tried your orange, and secondly (and more importantly), even if I had tried your orange, our tastes are likely different, and thus our opinions on fruit. Illustration #1: “Don’t compare apples to oranges.”
No, it is unfair to compare two different varieties of fruit in the same way it is unfair to compare the gas mileage of a compact car and a 45-foot motor coach. Most of us understand this principle and we refrain from such comparisons, weighing only the pros and cons on a level plain. However, when it comes to ourselves and others, we love to compare. Oh yes, we look around at not only our enemies, but our friends and family as well, and we size ourselves up to our opinions of and the actions of others. What’s wrong with that? We’re all human beings, right? Seemingly on that level plain. Yes, we are all human beings (though occasionally someone may give us cause to question even that), but that’s where it ends. We’re all in different places in our lives. We couldn’t very well compare the running times of a 75-year-old and a 25-year-old sprinter—the elder has had 50 more years of practice! But still we easily fall into comparison with others. Who drives the nicer car, lives in the better home, and who has the fattest checkbook? I think it goes without saying, none of those are indicators of happiness.
But then, what about happiness? We want to compare that too. We look at the bricklayer out in the hot sun and figure how unhappy he must be with his work compared to the white-collar executive who must have life pretty easy. It might surprise us to learn the laborer loves his job and takes great pride in his work, while the other dreads the stresses of his profession every day.
Looking around, we may slip even deeper into the chasm of comparison and surmise that the unlawful or illicit activities of others make us look “not so bad” or that our charitable works place us on a pedestal comparatively. Not so, my friend; it’s just not so. We’d be comparing apples to oranges once again.
We may all be on the same journey called life, but our paths are far from similar; so far in fact, they are not able to be compared. It’s a favorite truism of mine that “comparison is the thief of joy.” When we spend our time looking towards the health, wealth, and talents of others, we are robbed of the abundant joys in our own lives. And when we assume to know and understand the situations others are undergoing, we are sure to make an error in judgement. Take my advice, don’t assume your neighbor’s brand-new porch swing is superior, when yours is perfectly well-worn to your comfort.
The verdict this week: Comparison—a vice, when used any other way than comparing apples to apples.