“Comparison is the thief of joy.” Theodore Roosevelt
We all do it. We compare ourselves with others. Some of us are more skillful at hiding our attempts. Sometimes we seem to grow out of it a little bit as we go through life, but often it lurks just below the surface. Given the right circumstances, it reappears with lightning speed. It never really diminished. It merely hid for a season.
Comparison appears early in life. One of the first things a parent tells of their newborn is their weight and length. It builds from there. School and sports arrive quickly along with the accompanying comparisons. We are indoctrinated. It is ingrained. Who can possibly escape this vortex or the gravitational pull of the incessant questioning of: Who is better? Who is bigger? Who more beautiful?
Television ads use comparison to emotionally convince us that we do not have enough, are not beautiful enough, are too fat, and a host of other things that are all based upon comparison. It works. We compare, then we buy.
Comparison, accompanied by its sibling competition, seem to follow us like shadows. They are nearly inescapable and are enemies of leadership. Comparison arises out of an insecure heart. By measuring ourselves with another, we either feel proud (we are better) or envious (they are better). Both of these act as impediments to leadership growth and success. They are thieves of leadership
Comparison and competition are the thieves of leadership!
The byproducts of comparison and competition are pride or envy. They are also relational thieves. It is difficult to relate honestly and deeply when they lurk nearby. Envy causes us to not trust others. Pride carries an aroma that is undetected by us, but quite obvious to everyone else. Both separate and put distance in relationships.
Pride and envy always have voices. Pride speaks to us and cheers us onward. It affirms us in ways God never intended. Pride comforts us in our emotions and convinces us that our success is evidence of God’s pleasure and blessing.
Envy urges us on as well, but in twisted ways. Its voice is woven with the fabric of contempt. Usually self-contempt, but at times contempt for others. If we can convince ourselves emotionally of the unworthiness of another, then the glaring contrast of their out-performance is somehow diminished. In short, they remain better but we now feel entitled to dismiss them.
The apostles of Jesus faced the challenge of comparison and competition. Arguments arose among them on several occasions as to who was the greatest. On one occasion, Jesus allowed the discussion among them to go on for a while, knowing that they would be exposed once He inquired, “What were you discussing along the way?” (Mark 9:33-37).
Silence was their response. Jesus knew that the advancement of His message would soon lay upon the shoulders of these twelve common men. He had worked hard to make them to be leaders. Comparison jeopardized their leadership. Suddenly, they were only interested in what rank they possessed.
I like that Jesus waited until they were fully guilty. Only then did He ask about their discussion. He knew that their heart would only be instructed if they felt the emotional pain of being exposed.
The roots of comparison and competition are always found in our insecurity as a son or daughter to God the Father. When the basis for why we feel important and valued is founded upon our abilities and accomplishments, we always gravitate to comparison. Contrast this with the value we possess as equal sons and daughters. The Father’s delight in us is based upon our relationship with Him as His children, not based upon our abilities and accomplishments.
When we are secure, we overcome the temptation to compare ourselves. In doing so, we handcuff the thieves of joy, relationship and leadership!