Sunday, January 27, 2008

"I am the greatest" -- NOT

I have a disease. Not a physical one, but a spiritual one. You have it, too. So did Jesus's disciples:
At that time the disciples asked Jesus, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?"
Matthew 18:1
They ask Jesus, "Who is the greatest?" rather than "Who is great?" for the same reason kids ask their parents, "Who do you love best?" rather than "Who do you love?"

Why do they do that? Why do we compare ourselves with others? In Searching for God Knows What, Miller remarks that we humans compare ourselves with others all the time, as though that would somehow ease the vague insecurity inside us. It's one of those really dumb and ineffective things we do, because even if I decide I'm better than someone else in some respect (a questionable conclusion in any case), there are lots more people in the world, or even just in my state, and so the vague insecurity would just keep coming back. There is no way to really be sure that I really am the greatest. But even if I was, then what? Ten minutes or ten years from now, I might not be.

It's a disease, it's an epedemic -- worse, it's endemic! In No Two Alike, Harris describes this tendency as a mental organ. The tendency to compare is part of the human condition. And it causes all kinds of problems. James tells us that from jealousy and selfish ambition, disorder and every evil thing follow. The proverbs say that jealousy is worse than anger or wrath. And of course all that comes from comparing ourselves with others.

So this comparison thing is a really bad deal. It's a kind of idol -- it has power over me, but only as much power as I give it. To break this power, I have just a few ideas.

First, when I'm tempted to say, "At least I'm better at <something> than ________ is" or "I'm glad I'm not as bad as ________" then I can try to remember the mistakes I've made, the people I've hurt, or whatever. This helps me to be less arrogant that I might otherwise be.

Similarly, when I'm feeling envious about somebody who has more money, a bigger house, a better-looking body (etc.) than I do, I can try to remember that many in this world, or even in my neighborhood, have less money or more problems or poorer health (etc) than I do. This helps me to be more grateful.

Finally, in all these things, I can choose to remember that everything I have is from God. Did I earn a lot of money? Who gave me the skills, the health, the good looks that allowed me to do that? (OK, never mind the good looks.)

That's about it for my ideas to fight this awful tendency to compare myself with others.

How many did you come up with? Just kidding!

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