Which is Bigger?
Think for a second about someone with the perfect life.
Seriously, take a second and picture them in your mind.
What do you see? Does it resemble an Instagram feed? Are they standing with the sun glistening off their finely tuned muscles next to their well-behaved and gorgeous family in front of their perfectly immaculate house nestled in a Hollywood-esque background that he or she purchased with the American-Dream-Sized paycheck they got from their to-die-for dream job which they earned after a spotless scholastic career that sparkeled with achievements like “Student Body President” and “Sigma Cum Laude” due in part to their incredible study habits (that of course never tainted their charming ability to enjoy all of the coolest social scenes)? Sounds pretty amazing, right? In fact these are just the types of assumptions we might make about somone because of the computer screen sized rectangular lenses into a seemingly (and perhaps actually) unachievable world of achievement, happiness, and success.
I find it woefully ironic how the enormous increase in our ability to share information with the world has resulted in a subsequent enormous (yet camoflouged) increase in social idolatry. I use the term “social idolatry” to describe our insatiable appetite to compare our own lives to the lives of those around us, and this comparison can go both ways. While in one second you may find yourself languishing over the despicable and unimpressive state of your own life compared to that of your superstar friend, the very next moment can find you in equal fervor sneering at the pathetic state of your “less-than-accomplished” friend who’s achievements, body type, and relationship status all pale in comparison to the laudable list of your own accolades.
And this can all take place within a matter of minutes.
In my experience, I have found that this fact is not lost to most people. While the world may continue to cling to grandiose dreams of bigger and better, at least they recognize the rat race they find themselves in. However, as I considered the ramifications of such a futile and endless pursuit of “Insta-perfection”, I began to realize a truth.
"Instagram is only two dimensional whereas we humans are infinitely complex MULTI-dimensional beings."
I see life in visual metaphors, so as I began to chew on this thought, I began to picture two spheres with rods of varying thicknesses and lengths protruding from their centers, much like the sketch above. In the same way that it is impossible upon first glance to determine which of the objects is bigger in its three dimensions, so I believe it is impossible to accurately create an all-inclusive value assessment of someone due to several limiting factors we will discuss shortly. The levels of depth involved in accurately calculating our true merit in ALL the areas of life (not just shallow, single snapshots in time posted to our social media page) make it, I believe, near impossible to accurately assess both the worth of others and ourselves. An example of this is that while the cute girl with the million-dollar body might speak confidence, character, and happiness to the eye, what lies inside of her might actually be the very opposite. The counterexample of this is the girl whose freckled face and less than athletic physique may visually communicate undesirability while, in actuality, years of practice of patience, kindness, and goodness have created a character worth more than all the popularity social media can provide. We are multi-dimensional people, and that means we are more complex than superficial judgment is capable of accurately assessing.
As a competitive person (and also as a shamelessly self-identified human being), I have thought long and often about the factors behind why this comparison game leads to nearly spotless record of inaccurate judgments, which I have narrowed down to the following three: Countless Categories of Comparison, Time, and Limited Points of View.
Unless you are firmly set on life’s purpose lying solely in how good you can doctor up your life to APPEAR, there are innumerous fields in which we as human beings may pursue meaningful growth and purpose, the majority of which I would say are nearly imperceptible. While it is easy to perceive the quality of one’s body or perhaps their scholastic, athletic, or career achievements, there are other equally or even weightier qualities which might not be as visible to others. For example, while judging how terrible someone is at managing their money (from your perspective), you are negating the energy and benefit of the great depth and understanding they carry in their level of emotional intelligence which could possibly contribute to them being a far superior leader than you. How easy it is to formulate a judgment, whether positive or negative, of someone else based solely on a limited number of observable traits.
I have found myself quick to judge myself as well as those around me for a lack of development in one area or another only to later find out that person had worked very hard over a long period of time to overcome obstacles I wasn’t even aware of. Their current self was actually incredibly improved and successful compared to their old self. Often we can’t see where someone has come from or how much they are growing currently, yet we still find it acceptable to judge them or ourselves.
"When we acknowledge the beauty of progress over position, we free ourselves from negative pressure on both others and ourselves."
Limited Point of View
Remember that perfect person you thought of at the very beginning? What you just viewed in your mind was most likely a carefully selected snapshot of one particularly attractive moment in his or her life. I’ve often heard it joked that if all the mothers with their photos of their beautiful, angelic babies wanted to communicated reality, it would probably show them crying as they cleaned up that nasty diaper blowout or their sleep-deprived, lethargic expression after countless nights of no sleep. Yet everything we view, whether on social media or in “real life”, is merely a glimpse into that person’s life and certainly not the full novel. We are incapable of viewing someone in all times and places, which provides us very minimal data from which to draw conclusions about someone, and this is an inescapable limitation we must accept and embrace.
It is hard not to be critical of ourselves or of others in judgment of character, ability, or achievement. However, to be optimally self-aware is to operate with these self-limitations in mind. After all, why should we waste our time destroying our confidence and joy based on inadequate sources of information when the energy spent comparing and evaluating yourself and others can be put to better use by channeling it toward self-growth and improvement? We may never know which of the two representations of spheres I drew is bigger than the other, but acknowledging that imperceptions is the first step toward something even more valuable than the knowledge itself.