The Real You and the Treacherous Voice of Comparison
When Ted Ligety won the 2014 Olympic gold medal in the giant slalom, the man who came in one second behind him languished in fifth place.
Those in between? Fractions of a second.
One second. Five men, carving curves in the snow with their skis, flew down a steep mountain in exactly the same amount of time, give or take one second. If we had been standing at the finish line, we’d have had no idea who won. It takes digital Swiss timing to tell the difference.
I am amazed at how many ways humans have invented to compare themselves to each other. Who looks best on the red carpet? Who's going to the Super Bowl? Who's ahead in the political campaigns?
When one young Olympic figure skater jumped a double loop instead of a triple, announcer Scott Hamilton called it “disastrous.” The petite teenager finished in tears. How many among us could manage a double loop? Who even knows the difference in an axel, salchow, or lutz?
When I watch the figure skaters, I thank God no one is judging me on my creativity, execution, artistry, and degree of difficulty.
The Mean Judge
Except that voice in my head. The Mean Judge. The Comparison Queen who notices the achievements of everyone else and assures me I am not going to win a medal.
Do you have that voice?
My informal, lifelong survey tells me everyone has the voice, some louder than others.
We could blame our DNA. Scoping out the competition and trying to be better than they were helped us survive, whether we were hunting lions or attracting a mate.
We could blame advertising, which reinforces our fears of inadequacy. It has to pinpoint a problem in order to sell a solution. We could blame growing up with spelling bees, math contests, brain bowls, and of course, sports.
Living an Eternal Seventh Grade
But no one had to manufacture competition when I was young. All I had to do was look around to see how others outshone me.
The thing is, I know now—and knew then—that I was smart and kinda pretty and had friends. But I'm afraid a part of me will always be in seventh grade, convinced that everyone is looking at me, and mortified just to be alive.
In his wonderful book, The Untethered Soul, Michael Singer describes this yammering internal voice as a crazy roommate. If a roommate sat next to you all the time saying, You're not good enough … You shouldn't have said that … You look awful today … Those people are smarter, younger, better equipped for life than you are … you would kick the roommate out! Or at least tune him out. You wouldn't take it seriously.
And that's what we can do with the critical voice of comparison. One of the most useful spiritual/psychological lessons I've learned is that I don't have to believe my own thoughts. Really. Just because I think it, doesn't make it true.
Listening to the REAL You
The very fact that you can identify the critical voice means it's not really you. The real YOU is the witness, the one who hears the voice and knows it is mean and inaccurate. The one who feels compassion for that suffering seventh-grader lurking within.
We are evolving consciously now. We can identify the survival instincts that no longer serve us.
The work of our human lives is to recognize the divine in us and call it forth, to live from a higher awareness than we did in caves.
I don't know whether living in higher consciousness will make us less competitive. I'm not against fun. But being heartbroken because a medal is silver and not gold seems, well, a waste of athletic prowess and youthful exuberance.
So here's to the nerds and the klutzes, the socially anxious and the obnoxious, the jocks and the cool kids, the aging Italian skier who lagged by 1.58 second, and anyone else carrying a label that sets him or her apart from acceptable. Each of them (us) is made in God's image.
The more we live and move and have our being within Spirit, the less our differences matter. Like the spokes of a bicycle wheel, we grow closer together as we near the Center. No contest.