Compare More, Contrast Less
“I thank God for my handicaps, for through them, I have found myself, my work, and my God.”
Helen Keller bothers me. I know, I know, but before you string me up, hear me out:
For example, we all love to see stories of bodyweight transformation; those before/after videos of guys like Arthur, which bring tears to our eyes and renewed vigor to our own exercise regimens.
On the other hand, there are stories like Helen Keller’s (for instance, have you seen this?) —stories of incredible perseverance and positivity and perspective, in the face of unimaginable handicaps—that can leave me feeling immature and weak in contrast. Ms. Keller and and her teacher, Anne Sullivan, belong on the Mt. Rushmore of champions of the human spirit. I watch their triumph over deafness, blindness, and muteness, and I am simultaneously: 1) amazed at them, and 2) a little disheartened about myself.
See, regardless of what I show on the outside, I can struggle quite a bit on the inside. Insecurity, reactivity, impulsivity, negativity—these are some of my inner companions, especially whenever I contrast myself to legends like Helen Keller.
So, what I’m finding is that I need to compare more, and contrast less. I know we use those terms interchangeably, but traditionally, the search for differences is the search for contrast. The search for similarities? That’s the work of comparison.
A good discipline for me, therefore, whenever I hear stories of superhuman achievement, is to actively search for similarities. No, I haven’t had to overcome blindness. But what have I overcome?
How about the divorce of my parents? How about childhood abuse at the hands of a camp counselor? How about a compromised back that’s required two surgeries thus far?
I could certainly be wrong about this, but I’m guessing you sometimes feel a little disheartened by others’ triumphs, too. Maybe not Helen Keller’s, but perhaps someone else’s? Someone who’s been able to achieve what your immediate contrasting self says you can’t?
But by comparison, what have you overcome? What have you achieved? When have you exhibited similar qualities as those you admire?
More often than your negative inner companions would have you believe, I bet. So compare more, and contrast less. You’re probably stronger, more capable, and more accomplished than you think.