Here’s our premise:
We don’t think people should feel inferior to other people.
Using feelings of inferiority to attack other people is not cool (even if they never know they’re being attacked).
There’s no point in negatively comparing yourself to other people because (with only a few arguable exceptions) someone will always be better on any dimension or set of dimensions. Instead, focus on what you like, who you want to be, and how you can get there from here.
On personal finance sites, people will often say things like, “The Joneses may have that amazing house, but they probably have lots of credit card debt. They probably have no retirement savings.”
But you know, some of the Joneses value housing or cars or what have you and although they are on track savings-wise, they’ve chosen to spend their money on the things you can see rather than other things you can’t.
And what’s really mind-breaking is that some of the Joneses got lucky and have high incomes. Some of them made good choices when they were younger and are reaping the rewards of that now. Some of them just have more money than you do.
And that’s ok. (At some level we might want to argue about higher marginal tax rates and less corporate welfare, but for your average Neighborly Jones that’s probably not a first order concern.)
Yes, it might make you feel better to tell yourself that they have debt and you don’t. Or they are stealing from their wealthy parents. You can look down on them and lose all neighborly feeling. And forget about learning anything from them.
And what happens if you find out that’s not true? That they really are on track financially. Do you go back to feeling inadequate and inferior?
The same kind of thing happens on mommy blogs. The value-set is different than on pf blogs, of course. Instead of houses and cars and retirement accounts, things like craftiness and cleanliness and “doing it all” (whatever that means) are the comparison sets. But they say the same thing, well, this person with this pinterest page seems perfect, but there’s some area of her life that’s imperfect that she’s not showing me because she has to keep up her perfect persona. (And the blogger saying this always posts the obligatory, “see my house gets messy so I’m not perfect” pic. No offense to any blogger who has done this, but your house isn’t really messy. Really messy is what you get when you don’t actually care if the house is clean. And you shouldn’t have to pretend it is messy in order for people to like you. You really shouldn’t.)
[Ah, you say, telling yourself that someone else has unadvertised weaknesses doesn’t hurt anyone… she’ll never know. But the thing is, everyone else reading your comment gets the message that it’s not ok to succeed in all areas. That we have to find and advertise weakness even where none exists in order to make people feel better. It’s a way that patriarchy keeps strong women from achieving. We’re always damned.]
We’ve posted on this topic before. And I noted that I have work-friends who I admire who do everything I care about better than I do. They’re amazing. I could lie to myself and say their relationships aren’t as good or their kids aren’t as cute, but their relationships are good and their kids are cute (I do prefer mine of course, but that’s because I’m me and they’re my kids). Heck, at least one of them is a great cook to boot. For all I know they’re good at crafts too (who knows? Not something we discuss at conferences.). But I don’t have to lie to myself that they have hidden weaknesses. Their amazingness about things I care about doesn’t diminish mine. It just gives me something to shoot for (and means I have good taste in friends, and must not be completely obnoxious if they’re willing to hang out with me).
Finding our worth through comparisons of other people is never a winning proposition. We are all amazing and growing in ways that are unaffected by other people’s accomplishments. We all have our own preference sets that define what we care about. We all have our own constraints that we’re working against. We’re all different people with different starting points, different advantages, different preferences. That’s a good thing! There’s always going to be someone better at what we do, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be happy and proud of what we’ve accomplished or enjoy what we like. Focusing on our internal locus of control is a much better way to lose those feelings of inferiority than trying to tell negative lies to ourselves about external things we can’t control.
The patriarchy wants us to feel inferior. We don’t have to listen to it. The first step is knowing that it’s ok not to. We don’t have to be worse than other people in whatever way just so they’ll like us.
Or maybe we do have to pretend to be worse than some people in order for them to like us… but maybe those people aren’t worth being liked by. Because who needs friends who want to tear us down instead of build us up?
So no, we don’t think that people should use feeling inferior as a reason to claim other people have weaknesses. That’s really only a band-aid solution to feeling self-confident anyway. It’s much better to stop doing the comparison to begin with, because there’s always going to be someone “better” at whatever it is you’re comparing yourself on.
Ok, Grumplings! Do your worst (or best… whichever!).