OVERCOMING THE COMPARISON COMPLEX

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In a world set up to make quick comparisons that ultimately pit people against each other, it’s easy to fall into the habit of envy rather than celebration and of treating each other harshly rather than with appreciation and civility. The notion that one woman’s climb to the top will hinder our own, or that another woman’s parenting finesse makes our own dexterity unexceptional, is flawed—yet commonplace. It’s no secret that social media, for all of its benefits, can sometimes lure the ugly beast of comparison. A photo of a friend’s recent success posted on Facebook, for example, too often breeds jealousy rather than congratulations. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Liberian Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee tells a powerful story of women working together and creating an unstoppable force of goodness in her book, Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War. In 2003, Gbowee organized and led Women of Liberian Mass Action for Peace, a coalition of women who harnessed their anger and hardship to work for peace. Gbowee surrounded herself with strong, compassionate women, and they were all empowered through support and collaboration. They ultimately helped stop a corrupt president, menacing warlords, and a civil war. “If any changes were to be made in society it had to be by the mothers,” she wrote in her book, recognizing the power of a fully realized group of women who were for each other.

Harriett Tubman fled slavery and then went back to the south to usher hundreds of other women to freedom, showing not only courage, but also a deep care of others. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler write comedy with a specific message, which Poehler explained by saying, “You can create your own spark. And if you have another woman to support you, you can be very, very powerful.”

We can learn a lot from each other, particularly from those who are champions of meaningful pursuits and unbridled potential. Within our groups of friends and throughout our lives, we will invite much more joy and freedom if we make it a habit to fan fires, support each other, and celebrate other women who we see doing interesting things in their lives. Together, let’s acknowledge that if one of us is held back, we’re all held back; however, if one among us is celebrated and encouraged, we all become powerful.

As a group of women—whether we’re a book club, a MOPS’ group, a neighborhood playgroup, an online community, or something else entirely—we can dismantle the culture of scarcity we’ve built around ourselves. Love is not finite. I love my son Oliver with all my heart, and yet what do I have left for my son Eli and my daughter Sintayehu? More love, of course; it’s not a finite commodity!

There is love and then there is more love. The same is true in all of our relationships with each other. Your best friend commands a room and exudes charm? Delight in her. Someone else’s charm doesn’t make you any less charming; it just makes for an even more beautiful and interesting world. A member of your circle of moms has managed to teach her four-year-old how to read? Raise a glass! Her early reader in no way diminishes the potential of your precocious child; they simply add to an increasingly literate society.

When we become mothers, we uncover a layer of ferocity and give this newfound authority a name, “Mama Bear.” With a bit of internal work, we soon realize the scope of her power and we see potent glimpses of her in our friends. The sooner we are able to overcome comparison within our relationships and celebrate the potential of all, the sooner we are able to harness our Mama Bear power and use her for the good of the world. We might use her to usher in a new revolution, squash a warlord, lift up a struggler, or simply make someone laugh. But first, we must celebrate her presence—in ourselves and in one another—and understand that there is no ceiling on good.

*This post was adapted from the book Mama Bear’s Manifesto for the QCMB.

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