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Better Than, Worse Than

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Comparing ourselves to others is what is called a cognitive distortion. This is when our perception of something in our experience gets bent out of shape by our memory of a similar event in our thinking. It’s a distortion because it’s an inaccurate recollection of something making our present experience of something inaccurate as well.

A while ago I remember wrestling with TV antennae to get a clear picture. Sometimes bending the antennae in one direction would fix the snowy static only to make the picture wavy. I wonder how much time I spent trying to get the picture just right rather than watch it for what it was or better yet, just shutting the TV off. The point is that I knew the picture wasn’t clear so I did something at least to try to bring it into focus. I knew something was wrong and how to fix it even if the result was never totally satisfying (until cable TV).

The problem with any cognitive distortion is that we convince ourselves a snowy or wavy picture is clear. These beliefs about experience are really lies. The distorted picture of our experience absorbs us so much that we have no understanding what the truth is. The lie becomes the truth. When this happens we can’t see that there’s any problem to fix.

If we compare ourselves to others in this condition we aren’t telling the truth about ourselves or other people. We are comparing our own distorted picture of ourselves to a distorted picture of others. We can become haughty and proud that others aren’t as bad as us or that we are simply better. We can also become despondent and envious that others are always better than we are. Both positions can leave us apathetic, complacent, envious, greedy, or despairing over our own conditions.

Comparing ourselves to others is an amplifier of our own false understanding of our place in the world. Maybe the place to stop feeding the lie is to stop making the comparison. Then at the very least we aren’t dependent on someone else to grasp our intrinsic value in the world.

About Andrew Tatusko

Secularization, critical pedagogy, sometimes agnostic, politics, and a ton of running. Penn State is definitely not responsible for what I say.

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