By Ken Wells - 01/20/2023


Series Three: Blog Ninety-One

Caitlin Clark is a guard for the Iowa Hawkeyes women’s basketball team. This season as a sophomore she is scoring an average of almost 27 points per game, 7+ rebounds, 7+ assists and making nearly 1/2 of all the shots she takes. She is the most prolific scoring basketball player in all of college sports. A few days ago one of my sons asked if I had watched any of her highlights? I had not so we went to YouTube and watched a 10-minute highlight of her making numerous 3-point shots from the logo on the court which is a few feet shy from half court shots. The highlights were amazing. Afterwards, I made the comment that she was a really good player for a girl.

Later my son asked me about my comment. He pointed out that women hear that kind of remark all the time. He informed that it was a sexist remark. I listened and agreed. I apologized to both women sitting within earshot of my remark. Upon further conversation it was noted that comparing women’s accomplishments with men is like comparing apples with oranges. The conclusion was made that comparison breeds a form of competition that is not needed and distorts value of an individual’s achievement, particularly that of the woman being discussed.

It was a lesson well received. It helped me to consider a cultural influence that emphasizes comparison and stresses categories of achievement with judgment of who is better. Comparison fuels closed-hearted living. It can foster zero sum living which promotes judgment that creates winners and losers. One person’s gain or loss is predicated on the gain or loss of others.

The Dalai Lama once said that we must learn that humanity is all one big family. He wrote that human development relies upon cooperation and not competition. He concluded that we still focus too much on our differences instead of our commonalities.

Comparison emphasizes differences that judge good versus bad in human performance and existence rather than underscoring  brilliance in the greatest of human beings. 

Comparison is endemic to our society. The story is told of two younger fish swimming next to an older fish when a new fish swims to them and asks the older fish “how’s the water?”. The older fish responds and answers the question. After the newer fish swims away, the younger fish ask the older fish “what’s water?”. Comparison can be so consuming that our culture doesn’t even recognize it happening. Sizing people up happens all the time in recovery. It creates unnecessary judgment, intimidation and triggers putting some people on the high end and others at the low end of a totem pole, indicating who is esteemed and who is not.

Racial, sexist, economic comparisons form the categories of “haves” and “have-nots” in our society. Usually comparison is focused on outside appearance and accomplishment. As a result, people tend to look for the spectacular through behavioral achievement and get stuck in comparing one result with another. What gets overlooked is the brilliance that rests in the greatness of commonplace experience. Each of us has the capacity to resource meaning in life from the average experiences of daily living.  Greatness in humanity is mined from every day experience and is incomparable. It is the evidence of human brilliance that often gets lost in a sea of social comparison.

Here are a few considerations to avoid getting stuck in comparison in recovery and everyday living.

  1. Meaningfulness is found in the shell of human suffering. You must be able to sit with suffering in order to crack the shell of meaningfulness. Most of us look for inspiration and excitement in the spectacular breakthrough experiences of life. When the spectacular is absent many become restless and unable to find purpose in every day experience. They never learn to appreciate the mundane. They learn to close their heart to going inward. They are perplexed by the idea that the way out of difficulty is to go inward and to lean into the pain of the moment. Yet, those who crack the shell the commonplace discover the depth of brilliance that exists in the ordinary encounters of daily living.
  2. Comparison leads to other people defining who you are. When you try to compete for significance through others, you lose yourself by trying to be what others think you should be. You throw yourself on a hamster wheel and try to be more to keep from being less. You only know your true self by going inward. Addicts who fail to recognize limits want what they want when they want it. They break boundaries craving more. Yet, clarity comes inside the boundaries of living. It is within that you can mine your own brilliance and know yourself by going as deep within as you like.
  3. Don’t force meaningful living. Allow life to flow to you rather than forcing things to happen. While there are times it is important to make things happen, it often is indicative to not accepting and learning from a place of discomfort and struggle. Pushing to make things happen is usually unsustainable. Yet, when you have taken the time to find meaningfulness in ordinary experience, you are pulled toward a higher standard of performance and excellence in behavior. In this way you gain clarity on why you do what you do in your everyday life.  When your action is pure and selfless, things settle into their own perfect place and the energies of life pull you into a passion for everyday living.

There is a phenomena that happens when you keep pushing for more and more. You never get enough. When you try to fill the empty hole in your soul by pushing for more accomplishment and attainment, you become like a child who cannot get enough sugar. The achievement is never deeply satisfying if you fail to embrace the journey along the way. It’s the journey of the common mundane everyday experience that fulfills happiness.

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