Viewpoint: Avoid Unrighteous Comparison
Contributed By From the Church News
In act 3, scene 3 of Shakespeare’s play Othello, the character Iago counsels Othello, “O, beware, my lord, of jealousy; it is the green-ey’d monster, which doth mock the meat it feeds on.”
In what is probably the earliest mention in print of the green-eyed monster jealousy, Shakespeare uses literature to illustrate a common trait of human nature. Many of us compare ourselves with others in an attempt to evaluate the success of our own lives. Although it can serve as a motivator at times, when we see something that exceeds our own allotment, we often feel inferior because we have not been blessed in a similar manner.
In an address to the women of the Church, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the First Presidency gave counsel that applies to all members:
“I want to tell you something that I hope you will take in the right way: God is fully aware that you and I are not perfect.
“Let me add: God is also fully aware that the people you think are perfect are not.
“And yet we spend so much time and energy comparing ourselves to others—usually comparing our weaknesses to their strengths. This drives us to create expectations for ourselves that are impossible to meet. As a result, we never celebrate our good efforts because they seem to be less than what someone else does” (“Forget Me Not,” Ensign, Nov. 2011).
Mark Twain once said, “Comparison is the death of joy.” Every day, social media messages detail the events of people’s lives, a potential genesis for unhealthy comparison. In August of 2013, the University of Michigan published a study that concluded: “On the surface, Facebook provides an invaluable resource for fulfilling the basic human need for social connection. Rather than enhancing well-being, however, these findings suggest that Facebook may undermine it.”
Author Henri Nouwen wrote, “In a world that constantly compares people, ranking them as more or less intelligent, more or less attractive, more or less successful, it is not easy to really believe in a [divine] love that does not do the same. When I hear someone praised, it is hard not to think of myself as less praiseworthy; when I read about the goodness and kindness of other people, it is hard not to wonder whether I myself am as good and kind as they; and when I see trophies, rewards, and prizes being handed out to special people, I cannot avoid asking myself why that didn’t happen to me” (The Essential Henri Nouwen ).
Another problem with unrighteously comparing ourselves to others is that we often use incomplete information. A study in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin indicated that people underestimate negative emotions and overestimate positive emotions among peers. Author Steve Furtick explains, “One reason we struggle with insecurity: we’re comparing our behind-the-scenes to everyone else’s highlight reel” (“Crash the Chatterbox: Hearing God’s Voice above All Others”).
“The Spirit speaketh the truth and lieth not. Wherefore, it speaketh of things as they really are, and of things as they really will be; wherefore, these things are manifested unto us plainly, for the salvation of our souls” (Jacob 4:13).
“For many of us, comparing ourselves to a practically perfect Latter-day Saint woman is part of how things are,” said Elaine L. Jack, former Relief Society general president. “While some of us are motivated and encouraged by such imagined or real-life models, others of us are disheartened and discouraged by this same ideal woman—whether she is a composite of many women, or someone of whom we have read, or even someone we know” (“These Things Are Manifested unto Us Plainly,” Ensign, Nov. 1990, 89).
Christian author C. S. Lewis wrote: “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others. If every one else became equally rich, or clever, or good-looking there would be nothing to be proud about. It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition has gone, pride has gone (Mere Christianity).
“And it came to pass in the thirty and sixth year, the people were all converted unto the Lord, upon all the face of the land, both Nephites and Lamanites, and there were no contentions and disputations among them, and every man did deal justly one with another.
“And they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift” (4 Nephi 1:2–3).
The danger of unhealthy comparison is that it can lead to depression, spiritual digression, lack of self-confidence, ingratitude, and delighting in the misfortunes of others. The challenge for a disciple of Christ is to move from competitiveness to cooperation, from love of self to love of others, from comparison to connection.
“Brothers and sisters, I testify that no one of us is less treasured or cherished of God than another,” said Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. “I testify that He loves each of us—insecurities, anxieties, self-image, and all. He doesn’t measure our talents or our looks; He doesn’t measure our professions or our possessions. He cheers on every runner, calling out that the race is against sin, not against each other. I know that if we will be faithful, there is a perfectly tailored robe of righteousness ready and waiting for everyone, ‘robes … made … white in the blood of the Lamb’ [Revelation 7:14]. May we encourage each other in our effort to win that prize” (“The Other Prodigal,” Apr. 2002 general conference).