31 August, 2008

Perspective

There is an old saying that was oft quoted in my youth: I was sad because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet.  It was quoted, with an attempt at zen-like authority, to try and make me accept the way things were merely because someone else had it worse. 
I never really agreed with it, any more than I agreed with the argument that I should eat my brussel sprouts because there were starving kids in China.
It was obvious even to my untrained mind that my actions would have no impact on the hunger of kids around the world and, though hunger is the best spice, the hunger of some faceless child with whom I had no emotional attachment  was not enough spice to make the brussels sprouts on my plate any more palatable.
This ‘acceptance by comparison’ is such a bad philosophy from so many angles.  Primarily, it is because any philosophy worthy of its salt should pertain to anyone who chooses to embrace it and it should work in crisis as well as calm.  If the only way you have learned to accept your situation is by finding someone who has it worse than you then you then it will fail you at a most critical time:  when you happen to have it, in actuality, worse than anyone else. 
Secondly, this philosophy is just the flipside of another pitiful form of existence.
Though many people succumb to it, both subconsciously and consciously, few can successfully argue that envy is a good thing to embrace.  If we can only define our success by how we stack up to others we are destined to be unhappy most of the time.  This is not to say that competition is a bad thing, and I am not against keeping score.  But, in the end, the only person against whom we should measure ourselves to define our success is the person we were yesterday and the person we will create tomorrow.
A personal philosophy based on comparison is what gives us people who are obsessed with keeping up with the Jones’ and people who relentlessly put others down to hide their own lack of self esteem.  It gives us people who abuse power because the only way they can feel powerful is to make others powerless.
I think we can agree that being obsessed with what someone else has is not good.  Most people would agree that being miserable because someone else has a bigger house, newer car, or higher salary than we have is foolish.  I am certain that we can agree that the person who steps on everyone else in order to make themselves look bigger is a grade A asshole.
Is not being happy because I have something that someone else does not just the other side of the coin?  Isn’t dealing with the hardships in my life only by saying, ‘At least I don’t have it as bad as that guy’ a faulty path to acceptance?  Isn’t it just as shallow?  Being able to accept the things we cannot change is important, but it should not be based on how bad someone else has it. 
Acceptance is the price we pay for maturity, for composure, and for peace of mind. 
We shouldn’t use someone else’s misfortune to pay the bill.
Namasté,
Sisyphus
 I was sad because I had no shoes, until I met a man with no feet.
And so I asked the guy if he had any shoes he wasn’t using.
—Steven Wright

Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz ?
My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends.
Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends,
So Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz ?

Mercedes Benz, Janis Joplin

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