Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Perils of Comparisons

I find myself always asking the kids what they liked best about something or other --trying to get them to form opinions and communicate back to me what their 'favourites' are. Why do we make comparisons? Is it to sort out all the stimuli coming at us all day? Why must something be judged relative to something else in order for it to be considered good? Take relationships for example. Most people hate to be compared to someone else. We want to be loved and accepted as we are. At its worst, it's explicit -- "why can't you be more like so-and-so". At its best it's a mispoken request for change. Thankfully, I'm adept enough to know those are fighting words. Yet, it's always there, that inclination to compare. Even if I don't say it, I'm thinking it.

The problem with comparisons is that it can turn you bitter or vain. They'll always be someone out there that's better looking, smarter, nicer, etc. It's pointless to judge what you are and what you have relative to something else. It makes you appreciate what you have less. We think that if we suddenly compare, we'll find something better. It is what it is. We can't change it. We can only change our perception of it.

When it comes to kids, sometimes I use comparisons to motivate -- "I never have to ask so-and-so to help, they always pitch-in". I should know by now that this has the opposite effect. The person on the receiving end rarely thinks "that's true, why can't I be more like that too". It's more like "they love him more, I hate him". And the other person in favour feels pressure to keep it up -- to be more competitive for fear of losing my appreciation.

In the parenting book 'Siblings witout Rivalry', the authors suggest that the key to avoid comparisons is to simply DESCRIBE what you see, what you like, don't like, what needs to be done, etc. rather than using comparisons. Nothing the other sibling is doing or not doing has anything to do with them. Ugh, this is hard. I grew up being constantly compared to my sister. "Why do you always have to be the one to complain, your sister just accepts it." "That's great, it took your sister three tries before she got it."

Whatever the reasoning behind it, it's something I should avoid if I want more peace in my relationships. If love and respect are at the heart of my communication, I'm confident that I'll be able to stop my comparisons dead in their tracks. Golden Rule yet again -- I hate being compared myself, so why would I do it someone else?

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