Lately I have been trying to tackle a monster in my life that has been silently affecting my thoughts and my relationships. It robs me of my joy, deprives me of my creativity, and prevents me from being the best wife, friend, daughter, sister, co-worker, blogger, and activist that I can be. It is a silent driving force behind many of my decisions. It cripples me, accuses me, frustrates me. Though it is my enemy, it masquerades itself as a loyal friend.
That monster is comparison.
When my husband and I got married and set up our first little home, I found myself consumed with jealousy with what other friends in the same stage of life had in their houses. I’ve never considered myself to be obsessed with material things, so the bad moods and envy that showed themselves during those first few months of our marriage shocked both me and Jay. I was perfectly content with our little apartment, which was adorable and had everything we needed…until I saw what others had. One day as I sulked in the car after visiting a friend’s house, and Jay lovingly but firmly said this:
“Michelle, if you think our family is about ‘keeping up with the Jones,’ you’ve married the wrong person. Our lives are going to be about increasing our standard of giving, not our standard of living.”
I didn’t like hearing it, even though my years in Africa had taught me that I had so much more than most. But a few days later when I spilled a can of paint on our new shower curtain and burst into tears, I realized that the monster of materialism had to be weeded out of my life. I remember whimpering to Jay, “character change is just so hard.” In that moment everything changed. Today I can honestly say that material things, for the most part, do not entice me like they used to, and in many ways I feel I’ve been set free. This has been replaced with an honest desire to increase our standard of giving, so that we can invest in the lives of others who actually have need.
I wish my story ended there, but the reality is that comparison, which was at the root of my materialism, has morphed into other forms over the years. Today my jumbled thoughts can look like this:
His blog has so many more readers than mine. How can she always look so dang good? She’s on the front lines of fighting human trafficking but I’m just a writer. I wish I was a good public speaker like that. It sure would be nice to get an inheritance like they did. They get to travel WHERE?! He gets paid to do what he loves while I’m still a volunteer.
We go to the store and compare our clothes, our furniture, our accessories. We go on facebook and compare our adventures, our pictures, our friends. We watch movies and compare our bodies, our lifestyles, our romances. As I heard it said once, “we spend money we don’t have on things we don’t need to impress people we don’t like.”
In some cases, watching others can be a great thing if it prompts us to become better ourselves (ie. developing public speaking skills). But sometimes it gets downright ugly. Like that split second moment in which you quietly celebrate the downfall of another. C.S. Lewis puts it so well:
“Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man… It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition is gone, pride is gone.”
We don’t just want to be rich, or smart, or pretty, or funny. We want to be richer, smarter, prettier, funnier.
Because I am passionate about prevention, I often ponder what the root causes of human trafficking are. For a while I was convinced that it was greed. Our greed for more stuff decreases our margin to be generous to those in poverty, making them more vulnerable to exploitation. Greed makes the flesh trade appealing to traffickers and pimps, as there is a lot of money to be made off the bodies of women and children. Greed make corporations engage a vicious race to the bottom, where the rights and safety of workers are trampled. But as a friend of mine recently pointed out, at the root of greed lies discontentment. And discontentment is fueled by comparison.
Discontentment leads us to spend money on only ourselves when there is a world of need all around us. Discontentment makes us compromise our values and standards in an effort to appear to be someone we are not. Discontentment drives men to ignore the real women in their lives to pursue sexual fantasies that often end up hurting victims of sex trafficking. Though in most cases parents who sell their children into the sex trade do so in a desperate move to put food on the table, in some cases they do it for cable TV.
Discontentment prevents people from living their calling, which would make the world a better place. Discontentment and comparison make those of us who are trying to fight exploitation ineffective, or at the very least, less effective than we could be if we were fully united.
I don’t know about you, but I do not want discontentment and comparison to prevent me from helping others. Every person I have talked to about this issue in the last month has acknowledged that on some level, they struggle with it too. If we are to expect the government to fight injustice, we must be willing to fight the battle within ourselves. Instead of comparing myself to others, I want to be inspired by others. I still have a lot to learn and am open to any suggestions you may have in dealing with this monster.
What about you? What areas of your life do you compare? In what ways does it hinder you from being all you can be? If you could stop comparing one thing, what would it be any why? Do you agree that discontentment is connected at the root to human trafficking? It what ways are you inspired by others instead?
Would love to hear your thoughts on this one.