Monday, July 20, 2009

The Con of Comparison

Apparently I paused a split second too long after the light turned green. The ladder-climber in the 1-series BMW behind me didn't honk, but I learned of his displeasure as he accelerated through his turn (a hairsbreadth past my bumper) into the outside lane and gave me The Look.

You know the look. You've either given it or received it. Maybe both. The driver's derisive look that says, "You're not going fast enough. Either lead, follow or get out of my way."

Well, pardon me.

How was I supposed to get the fruit and brown sugar stirred into my Starbuck's oatmeal AND watch the traffic signal? Really. It was a SPLIT SECOND.

I used to drive 40 km round trip every day to work and back on Deerfoot Trail, Calgary's only north/south freeway (and I use that term loosely). Also known as the Fearfoot 500, I often run into people (usually women, unfortunately) who would tell me they were afraid to drive on Deerfoot. Well, I'd just slip into my sweet, southern, evil smile, point to myself and say, "I'm the reason people are afraid to drive on Deerfoot."

Yes, I was an aggressive driver. In my Angry Years. Which, according to the Gregorian calendar, would be anything prior to October 2008. I learned to dislike, with an incomparable intensity, the drivers of Dodge Rams. Big trucks = BIG ego. Hemi Hemorrhage. They didn't just give The Look. They gave the finger, fist, auto warning signals and an aura that exuded "Get outta my way." The red ones were the worst. One pulling a trailer with two Seadoos nearly passed me on the left-hand shoulder, flashing his lights and honking. It was 3 p.m. on a Wednesday afternoon. What lake could possibly be impatiently awaiting his arrival? I was already exceeding the speed limit and the middle lane was empty. If he wants to go faster, he should move over, not me. Besides, last time I checked the speed limit in the "fast lane" was the same as the speed limit for all the other lanes. (Okay, deep breaths. Namaste.)

Likely I could have co-authored this blog rant about Deerfoot Trail and Traffic Tips.

But that's all in the past.

I think in my later years, I have begun to learn how unnecessary it is to be in front. If I pass the guy in front of me, there's another one ahead of him. This natural bent towards faster, better, richer, happier, prettier, healthier, fitter. All these are stress-producing, "comparative" terms. Each of us could likely add a dozen more to the list. Marketing gurus lay awake nights trying to come up with more persuasive ones in order to sell their products.

This is the con of comparison. We look at what we have, and then at what our neighbor has and we compare, usually always coming up short on our end. (Why we don't compare ourselves to those with less is a different subject and another blog post.) So, follow me here, and I think you'll see it's not difficult to make a direct link between comparison and the tenth commandment: do not covet.*

So, next time you're tempted to rant about an issue, resent someone in front of you on the road, or go shopping so what you own (or the software you use) is just a notch better than your neighbor's, think about why and where that can take you:
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. (James 4:1-2)
Instead of comparing, why not reach for contentment:
Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,
"Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you."
(Hebrews 13:5)
And, when you're at a traffic light, if you should see a woman stirring fruit into her Starbuck's oatmeal, give her a wave and a smile, because, after all, she could be your neighbor.

Have fun and be careful out there. Don't get conned by comparison.

*A thoughtful study of what the 10th commandment means can be found here.

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