Theodore Roosevelt is a speaker and writer who often frequents compilations of inspiring quote lists, and certainly for me his “credit belongs to those in the arena …” passage (perhaps one for another edition of the Bulletin) is one I have thoroughly enjoyed and reflected on over the years.
Recently however, I was drawn to another quote of his which I found very salient, given the manner and custom of modern life, centred on the noise of reality television, highly constructed advertising images and social media. Roosevelt’s quote was that “comparison is the thief of joy”. Using what other people have or what they’ve done to chart our progress, or holding up the success or failings of our day-to-day lives against some vague standard of greatness, even paying attention to our perceptions of how good someone else has it, is rarely the way to happiness. This comes when we can learn to cherish that we are on our own journey with our own unique circumstances. Therefore comparison, as the quote implies, is something mostly to be avoided.
Last week in my assembly address, I discussed this topic with our students, giving the analogy that comparing my family holiday to Bali to Kim Kardashian and Kanye Wests’ Bali holiday feature on reality TV, or even comparing my busily squeezed in exercise regime and small home gym to daily posts by Dwayne Johnson (aka The Rock) in his Iron Paradise custom designed gym. A need to feel or look for deficiencies is fraught with danger and not a realistic outcome. I, however, do this as a mature adult and not an adolescent who is bombarded by comparison centred media on multiple platforms for up to five hours a day.
In considering a more measured, realistic and grateful approach the students were asked to consider the concept below:
Always remember that there are people who would love to have your bad days. It’s kind of cliché and sort of an Instagram meme, but it’s so true. Acknowledging this puts you in a position of gratitude and astonishment, rather than greed and disappointment.
It is challenging for young people when they are faced with a social system based on the number of ‘friends’ or ‘likes’ generated by unrealistic and fabricated images, or bombarded by celebrity and sport star images intended to provide some form of aspiration. Constant comparison in this environment can lead to feelings of insecurity and unhealthy and unrealistic expectations. Though many teens know that their peers share only their highlight reels on social media, it’s very difficult to avoid making comparisons. Everything from physical appearance to life circumstances, to perceived successes and failures, are under a microscope on social media.
So what advice can we offer as adult to help?
“Zoom out further, and laugh.”
When you zoom out far enough, almost everything becomes absurd. We are a split second of the infinity of existence. If humanity survives long enough, people will laugh at society in 2019.
My love of sport has kept me up recently and I have been really enjoying the World Cup cricket, however more than the matches themselves I have been enthralled by the crowds supporting the Afghanistan team. No one would expect them to win a game (well they haven’t yet), however they are cheered on by the most passionate and joyous crowds, probably given that only a few short years ago this was a country that looked as though it may not survive years of horrific civil war, yet now it is enjoying mainstream success in the World Cup. This provides an outstanding example that there is no need to compare success to others. Focussing on our own achievements and milestones is the key to enjoyment and happiness.
So if your son or daughter does get caught up in the ‘comparison’ space, have a conversation with them about the simple solution: zoom out to the big picture and laugh.
MR BRAD EVANS
HEAD OF SENIOR SCHOOL
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