You invite suffering when you compare yourself with another.
My classmate is a top executive at an MNC. He called me asking for some perspective on how to design a strategy offsite for his leadership team. At the end of the call, he wondered if I ever felt self-pity. “I am asking you this because I want to learn from you. Do you ever feel lousy that you are still struggling in Life, even when you have so much integrity and talent in you, while others, like me are well-settled in our careers and Life,” he asked.
I appreciate my friend’s candor. And my answer to his question is this: “No. I understand the futility in comparisons. You invite suffering when you start comparing yourself with another.”
The famous adline for Rin detergent bar from Unilever – “Bhala Uski Kameez Meri Kameez Se Safed Kaise?” (How is his shirt whiter and brighter than mine?) – may have worked well as an advertising strategy, but such thinking is debilitating in real Life. We must realize that each one’s Life is designed differently. Which means, “Uski Kameez Uski, Uski Safedi Uski” (It’s his shirt and therefore it’s his whiteness, brightness!). So, it is pointless to compare one with another.
In a story I read in Times of India a couple of days ago, one of the Baba brothers (both of them are young cricketers) Indrajith says he was plagued by constant self-doubt when his extended family and friends, and media, compared him with his more successful and prolific brother Aparajith. “I did feel lonely. I began to think too much on why I could not make it. But then I realized my turn will come if I keep my mind clear and work hard,” Indrajith told TOI’s Bagwati Prasad.
Indeed. Comparison is a lousy mind game. It plays havoc when someone else has got what you don’t have. When someone has a better job or car or spouse or whatever that you don’t have, your mind will keep prompting you to look at that person differently. You will start imagining that this person perhaps does not deserve what she or he has and that you deserve it more. But your imagination, your wishing something alone, cannot make it a reality. For instance, your imagination alone cannot get you that better job or car or whatever. So, when you don’t get what you want and instead when you keep pining for it, you suffer. Your expectations in this context are futile and are what are causing you agony. The only way then to end your self-inflicted suffering is to simply stop comparing yourself with others.
You must remember that it is not necessary that everyone has everything at all times. And when you don’t have something, just live with that reality. Don’t pine for it, citing that another person is having whatever you want, and believe that you are justifying your case better. Indeed, to whom are you justifying and how can any justification work with Life?
For instance, another friend lamented yesterday that while he is out of job and is facing rejection from every quarter, someone who is less-skilled and less-experienced than him has bagged the CEO’s job in a company where he once worked. My friend feels ethics and meritocracy have taken a backseat in today’s corporate world. Possibly. But my friend must realize that his grief is compounded by the fact that someone else has a job while he does not. And this is exactly the point that I am trying to make. When you don’t have a job, focus simply on trying to get one. Don’t focus on analyzing why others have a job while you don’t. This analysis is worth it, if it is constructive and if it can help you prepare and present your candidature better. But it can be very debilitating and destructive if you merely choose to compare yourself with others and wallow in self-pity.
Simply, in any situation, don’t compare yourself with others. Not when you have what others don’t. And never when you don’t have what others do. Comparisons, without doubt, ruin your inner peace.
Comparisons and lack of trust often destroy a parent-child relationship.
A man and his adolescent daughter met us yesterday. The man said his daughter is very angry, very frustrated when at home and doesn’t “connect” with him at all. Initially, the young lady did not have much to say. She simply said she could not relate to her father because she felt he did not trust her. When I asked her why she felt so, she explained. Her older sister had got a laptop with internet access as a gift from their father on her 15th birthday. But when the father discovered that the girl was having an affair with someone in her class, he took away the laptop and disconnected the internet access at home. The older girl has since gone to college and has gotten over her teenage blues. When the younger girl, the one I met, turned 15, the father did not buy her a laptop. His reasoning was that she would go her sister’s way. When the girl assured him that she had no intention to get involved in “random” relationships her father did not trust her. She even tried explaining to him that she had seen the parents agonize over the older girl’s issues and so she had resolved never to let them down. But no. The father did not see value in reviewing the stand he had taken. This, said the girl, caused her deep anguish whenever she interacted with him. She summed it up very bluntly: “I don’t think my dad trusts me. I can understand if I have behaved in a manner in which his stand is justified. But I have done nothing of that kind. Why am I being punished for a perception that he has of who I may be?”
I can totally relate to the young girl’s point of view and experience. I have been, as a child, treated similarly. And I must tell you, it can be very disturbing, very humiliating when you realize that your parents don’t trust you.
Parents must understand that each child is unique. Just because one of them behaves in a certain fashion, it is not necessary that the other(s) will behave the same way too. Just as you cannot generalize in any matter concerning adults, you can’t generalize with children either. I have, through our experience with parenting, always found that when you empower your children with the right set of values and allow them to make their own choices, there is greater harmony in the parent-child relationship. It is not necessary that you must agree with all that your children do or that they must agree with all that you have to say. But as long as you tell them that you trust them to make responsible choices, they feel the need to live up to your trust. Of course they will stumble, they will fall, they will make mistakes and they may well end up hurting themselves. To even wish that you want to protect them from experiencing their Life, their way, is very naïve. Your children are unique individuals. Just as you don’t want your parents to tell you what you ought to be doing, your children too want to be left alone. It is through the process of making decisions, succeeding, failing, falling, getting up and moving on that children learn, unlearn and relearn how to live intelligently. To be sure, isn’t that exactly the way you have learnt to live your Life better? So, just as learning-to-live-intelligently is a never-ending process for you, this will be a never-ending journey for them too.
As Vaani and I are discovering, parenting does not end with your children growing up to be adults. Parenting is a Life-long responsibility. A significant part of being able to execute that responsibility well involves trusting your child. Just as you don’t want to have anything to do with anyone who doesn’t wish to trust you, remember, your child too has an option. And you will do well not to ever let your child exercise that option. Because if she does, as it happened in the case of the man and the girl that met us yesterday, you will end up having avoidable strife at home. Simply, for your child to respect you and look up to you, treat your child the same way as you would like to be treated by anyone.
Each of us is a unique aspect of creation. Love being who you are, the way you are!
Someone who had watched the documentary ‘Rise In Love’ (made by a young film-maker Shalu to explore how love thrives in the face of adversity) on Vaani and me got in touch a few days ago. He said the reason for my ability to withstand the pressures of an enduring crisis (‘Fall Like A Rose Petal’, Westland) was that Vaani has stood by me like a rock. “My wife simply refuses to partner with me the way Vaani does with you. I feel lonely and lost at most times. What should I do,” he asked. I smiled and asked him if his mother and the rest of his family understood him. He said they did. I told him that in my case they didn’t. I pointed out to him that each of us has a different, unique Life design. So, comparing ourselves with others is of no use. It is the surest way for us to invite suffering into our lives.
Comparisons, especially in today’s wired, visible, demonstrative world, may seem inevitable. Yet they must be avoided. The way Life operates is that each aspect of its creation has a path and destiny of its own. The only common thread is the divinity, Life itself, that thrives in each of us. Otherwise, everyone’s story is unique. That’s what makes Life so mystical, so magical, so beautiful and so inscrutable. When you compare yourself with another person you are surely breeding jealousy in you. And you are choosing to be miserable instead of being happy. If feeling jealous or miserable about someone’s Life can get you their Life, then it is perhaps worth the effort. But the truth is nothing, absolutely nothing, can change your Life’s design. It is what it is for you. It is what it is for all those who you compare yourself with.
Instead of comparing yourself with others, get on with your Life. Live it your way. Surely, set yourself up against inspiring benchmarks. But don’t get bogged down if you can’t achieve your own exacting standards. Just keep trying. But do all this without postponing living or being happy. Because every moment that you have squandered in comparing yourself with another person, and have felt sorry for or angry with yourself, is a moment you have not lived!
In the ‘80s Hindustan Lever ran a popular TV ad for its best-selling detergent bar Rin: “Bhala Uski Kameez Meri Kameez Se Safed Kaise” (“How is his shirt whiter than mine?”). Their print ad showed two women, one envying the whiteness of the other’s (Juhi Chawla!) sari: “Mud-Mudke Dekhe Sansaar, Super Rin Ki Chamatkaar” (Super Rin’s whiteness will make the world turn around and look at you!”). Such communication did create memorable advertising but clearly this is not the recipe for intelligent living. So, drop all comparisons, let others be who they are, and you go be yourself, love what you do and love who you are. To quote Shailendra’s lyrics from the immortal song from Raj Kapoor’s 1955-classic Shree 420 (Shankar-Jaikishen, Asha Bhosle, Manna Dey): “Mud-Mudke Na Dekh, Mud-Mudke…” (Don’t turn back and look…)!!!