Relativity: the Problem

 Short men are happy, for they can pass easily through the door. Tall men are happy, for they can stand erect and pluck oranges with their hands. Again, short men are angry, for they cannot stand erect and pluck oranges with their hands. Again, tall men are angry, for they cannot pass easily through the door.  ~  Michael Bassey Johnson


There’s a virus circulating on social media sites. It’s the same contagion we’re vulnerable to when we go to the grocery store, turn on the TV or text on our cells. We’re so susceptible that most of us have been passive hosts since childhood. We became infected by phrases like: You should be grateful, others have it so much worse…

It’s embedded in the thoughts that comfort us, sometimes dormant, sometimes flaring up. We reflexively think it and often speak it: Comparatively speaking…

Comparatively speaking the weather is good; the pay is fine; the pain is manageable; the loss is less…

If my contentment lies in anything beyond my present reality, it’s fragile at best and worse yet, it’s a covetous contentment.  The contentment of relativity says I can only find my stability, peace, serenity, bliss in relationship to the lesser security, peace, contentment, and happiness of another.

It’s the It could be worse syndrome.  Yes things could always be worse but that isn’t gratitude that’s just fatalism. It could just as well be better and that certainly isn’t gratitude, that’s greed.



Relativity: the Cure

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion. ~ 14th Dalai Lama


If my weight is too high, my features too plain, my health too precarious, my finances too tight, I can always look around and find someone who faces greater challenges in those areas. Therein lies the trap: when uncomfortable, seek solace in comfort by comparison.

It seems that much of our measure of pain and pleasure and our sense of thankfulness and peace is based less on our experience in the moment and more on our perception of how this experience compares to that of others.

Comparison carries the pathogens of jealousy, greed, lust, revenge, envy and narcissism- permeating the thin membranes of our mind and the thin skin of our heart, tainting the meaning we assign to life events.

The condition is fed by gaining comfort by comparison, making it nearly impossible to focus on giving comfort through compassion.

If I can only appreciate my situation in relationship to the suffering or to the bounty of others, I don’t know anything about gratitude. And if I know nothing about gratitude, I have very little to offer in the way of compassion which is the antidote to the disease of comparison.

Compassion isn’t relative.

Compassion isn’t reserved for the worthy.

Compassion is what we owe each other simply based on our shared humanity and fragility.

True compassion is poured out freely in light of another’s path or plight, not meted out relative to our own circumstances. Compassion is the inoculation against the rampant contagion of comparison.

Comparison sickens. Compassion heals us. Gratitude keeps us well.


Comparison Consolation

Few are those who see with their own eyes and feel with their own hearts.  ~Albert Einstein

When the going gets tough, the tough look around and compare themselves to others.

I think I have that right, don’t I? Isn’t that what we hear? You think you’ve got it bad…. The sentence of exhortation that precedes the comparing of your (let’s keep it in perspective here) minor difficulties, to some unspeakable woes of another. I call it comparison consolation. Look around. Someone else always has it worse than you.

I you’re sick, someone is sicker; if you’re sad, someone is sadder; if you’re poor, someone is poorer. And that’s true.

But where’s the comfort in that? Am I truly supposed to feel happier/better/more grateful at the cost of someone else suffering? It’s a such a time-worn way of minimizing another’s pain, of minimizing our own, that the dysfunction of it seems almost Godly.

When Jesus said, Come to me all you folks who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest…He didn’t add the disclaimer, Unless,of course, someone is wearier or their burden is heavier. There are no caveats. He just says I know you’re weary, come and rest.

Sin Behind Stained Glass

The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed, ‘O God, I thank you that I’m not like other people – thieves, dishonest people, adulterers, or even this tax collector’.  ~ Luke 18:11

I’ve been reading some blogs of wounded souls tonight. It’s caused me, first, to carefully examine my heart and then to take another look at life in the contemporary faith-based community. The trend of comparison shopping sins is age-old, but it seems to be gathering momentum.

In general terms, it goes something like this: it’s worse to be a murderer than a rapist; it’s worse to a rapist than a prostitute; it’s worse to be a prostitute than a divorcee; it’s worse to be a divorcee than an adulterer; it’s worse to be an adulterer than an addict; it’s worse to be an addict than to be deceitful; it’s worse to be deceitful than to be a glutton; it’s worse to be a glutton than a gossip; it’s worse to be a gossip than vain; it’s worse to be vain than self-righteous; it’s worse to be self-righteous than foolish; it’s worse to be foolish than whatever it is we are/do in the hidden places of our heart. And if it’s in the hidden places of our heart, then 1. it isn’t so bad (in comparison) and 2. if it doesn’t’ show, we pretend it doesn’t grow.

Individual categories are also broken down. Addictions: it’s worse to be addicted to drugs than to alcohol; worse to be addicted to gambling than to pornography; worse to be addicted to food than to exercise; worse to be addicted to shopping than to sports; worse to be addicted to TV than to the internet.

‘O God, I thank you that I’m not like other people… If I allow myself, even for a single moment to think: At least I haven’t… At least I’m not like…  I’ve just taken my place with the Pharisee.

Sin isn’t relative. Sin is sin. It’s missing the holiness mark. It doesn’t matter if it’s by a mile or a millimeter. Grace is necessary in equal measure. So is humility. Those of us who live in stained glass houses, shouldn’t throw stones. Ever.