“Education should inculcate in all of us the idea that Mankind is only one family with common interests. And, as consequence, that cooperation is more important than competition.”

(Bertrand Russell)

Most of us will agree that comparing ourselves to others happens more often than we wish it would. And this since a very early age: if you don’t believe it, and if you don’t have any young children or grandchildren to observe so that they can make you change your view on this topic, I invite you to go and visit childcare and sit in the toddlers’ room for a while. It will be only a matter of time; sooner or later, one of them will most likely look at the toy they have been playing with for quite some time or even just for a few minutes, when not seconds, decide that the one their next to a toddler is playing with is more beautiful, more interesting, or just more colorful, grab it from the other child’s hand and – whenever deemed necessary – give a good push to them just in case they appear not to be willing to give it up or recognize who, from that moment on, will be in charge of it, and take over.

Yes, I know, you probably think that toddlers, and very young children in general, have these sorts of issues because they have not learned and assimilated yet fundamental concepts such as those related to property and possession, let alone that something can be shared with somebody else. You are right. At the same time, however, you might not have noticed it, but you might have preserved that childish attitude of comparing yourself to others all your life without even being aware of it. How? Let’s make a few examples by considering both ladies and gentlemen.

First of all, let’s clarify one thing: the tendency, or should we instead say the unhealthy habit of and attitude, to compare oneself to somebody else has nothing to do with the other – whoever they might be – but everything to do with ourselves, with our sense of insecurity, low self-esteem, and fear. All of these factors are, in fact, the main cause of jealousy and envy and lead us to see that “the grass of our neighbor is always greener.”

There are differences among sexes that, in my view and according to my several decade-long observations, direct and indirect experience and understanding make the ladies win big time over the gentlemen. Men though they also can fall into the trap of comparing themselves to somebody else, usually have a much smaller area of action; that is, they can compare themselves and feel competitive towards another and, consequently, become envious of a few things, with most of them being generally related to their sense of social status and financial resources. As a consequence, men can get in trouble, openly manifesting their competitive attitude when not boycotting the other more sneakily, when it comes to a higher position held by somebody else at work, to a promotion – deserved or not – and the consequent advancement in salary given to a coworker, the chance somebody else gets to buy a bigger or nicer house, car, motorcycle, and sometimes even for somebody else having married, getting engaged or just having a relationship with a prettier or simply smarter partner than he has. Sometimes such a competitive attitude may also extend to the area of children so that those who are fathers end up making comparisons between the material possessions their children have or do not have, compared to those of others, which is related to what they, as parents, can or cannot afford and, consequently, offer or not offer to them, and the ability and/or willingness of their children to obtain higher grades in school and even to attend college, which are both linked to the possibility of having a better future than they had as parents. Once again, most of these reasons, if not all of them, concerning why men engage in some competitive behaviors seem to refer to the person’s status quo and financial possibility. 

Women, on the other hand, gifted as they are with much more fantasy and imagination than men, can be much more creative as well as for the never-ending list of categories of motives which may lead to comparisons and, consequently, to express, in some way or the other, their competitiveness. The latter though sometimes not clearly and verbally defined, can be evident, to an even much greater extent than words would allow, by using silence. So many times, in fact, rather than openly express her envy and/or jealousy towards the other female subject, the one who is competitive by nature or more competitive – for not everybody is nor is so to the same extent – manifests her real feelings by not acknowledging the other. Other times, to the contrary, when these feelings are openly expressed, they take the form of derogatory and/or denigratory statements and comments. Hence, in the female world, generally speaking, almost anything can trigger a woman’s competitiveness: from who is/was the best in school to who has the most beautiful color of the eyes, the highest shoes, the most admirable makeup, the trendier color-form-style of hair, the cleanest house, and on and on.  

Though competition usually occurs between people of the same sex, now and then, it may also occur between people of the opposite sex. According to my observation, this usually happens for one or more of the following reasons, that is, when a man and a woman run for the same position and career advancement, with the man – regardless of the female’s attitude – usually having a hard time to recognize her as his boss, and/or when a man has difficulties in accepting her higher education, brighter mind or just her more confident, more assertive or even dominant personality. As for the latter, besides personality issues, there might also be some historical reasons, which are usually deeply rooted in almost all cultures since the beginning of time. I am referring here to the fact that nearly all civilizations, except for the few which are based on matriarchy, have taught that the man must be the leader, in charge of the family, the community, and the country and that, therefore, he is the one who needs to provide financially speaking for all those he loves. Men are raised to believe this and, consequently, when they find themselves in a situation that proves that that is not always going to be accurate, they feel uncomfortable insecure, their whole world is shaken. Despite all of this, however, in recent years, so many situations have changed, with the world economy and consequent job market and employment possibilities proving to be quite unstable no matter where we live, some men have found themselves playing a role they would have never thought they would, let alone it would have been deemed acceptable by previous generations.   

However, no matter who is involved in the process and who is comparing and competing, the most crucial aspect to consider is that the more often the comparisons are made, the more competitive the person feels. The more insecure the individual is, the less they enjoy their own life. Why? Because what generates the need for comparisons and becoming competitive towards another human being is – as previously stated – one’s insecurity, that is, one’s fear of not being suitable (intelligent, educated, wealthy, etc.) enough. This is deeply rooted in the lack of knowledge of the Self and in the absence of awareness of one’s self-value as a living, intelligent being who deserves to be happy and to fully enjoy life regardless of one’s physical appearance, social status or whatever we might erroneously consider ‘important’ in our life and which is not. 

It’s only when we truly understand these aspects and what it is really at stake, once we connect with the Self, embrace who we are, and finally love who we are, that we eventually can get rid of the burden of comparison, envy, jealousy, and stop being competitive. Being able to do so by loving ourselves and other people – no matter who they are or what they do in life – and showing a spirit of solidarity by helping each other and being there for one another regardless if we are asked for it or not is the only way we have to prove that we have understood that we are all linked to one another and that, happiness, therefore, cannot take place until there is another living being suffering or being not loved. Only then, once we manifest in ourselves the transformation we want to see in our world – as Mahatma Gandhi so beautifully stated – will we be able to come to know true Love, Happiness, and Health and make this world a better place.    

Maria Teresa De Donato©2013 All Rights Reserved.