Comparisons Are Odious

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I thought I’d write you another “feel good” piece this week, to maybe help counter the COVID-blues!

Remember the episode of The Simpson’s in which Ned Flander’s wife, Maude, had disappeared. Ned was seen burying something in the garden, in the night! Gosh, had he killed her and buried her?

Ned Flanders

Remember the sanctimonious diddly-doodly Ned Flanders character?

No, it turned out he was burying a dead plant he had been supposed to be looking after. The wife returned home next day. She had been away on a Christian weekend retreat, she explained, learning to be more judgmental! Very funny.

It’s true, religious zealots usually are judgmental, assuming themselves to be perfectly right and in God’s favor, while other “sinners” are inadequate indeed.

But here’s the best rule I know, to live a spiritual and happy life:

Don’t be judgmental. It has inbuilt disappointment and hurt. Think of the basic Supernoetics® definition of stress: the difference between what you’ve got and what you wanted. Judging things badly actually opens up a gap and creates stress where none is needed!

It’s yet another offshoot of Shakespeare’s famous phrase, given to Hamlet: “Nothing is either good or bad but thinking makes it so.”

When I was younger (so much younger than today – Beatles!), I discovered the merits of the saying “Comparisons are odious”. Odious means “extremely unpleasant; repulsive; disgusting; disagreeable: as, an odious person; an odious sight or smell.” 

The maxim about making comparisons is said to have originated with one John Lydgate in his Debate between the horse, goose, and sheep, circa 1440.

It cuts both ways. It is silly, wrong and will lead to hurt, if you compare upwards, to something better, or downwards, to something not quite so good. It is better by far (there, I just made a comparison!) to drop the whole concept of better, more, nicer, prettier, friendlier, etc. 

In other words dump the comparative adjectives. Stick with the basic, non-comparative adjectives: good, enough, nice, pretty, friendly.

I well recall several visits to India, and I lived in Sri Lanka for a couple of years, where I saw lots of happy, smiling faces. You know what? I wouldn’t have changed places with any of those poverty-stricken people; my life seemed so much richer and more rewarding than theirs. Yet they were genuinely happy! They didn’t mind having next to nothing in life because they had not the slightest expectation of getting anything more than they had.

They could not compare themselves to me, because it was just unthinkable.

And that reminds me of very hurtful, disturbing event I witnessed: Lynne Twist of The Pachamama Alliance brought an Ecuador native Indian to a fancy, intellectual’s lunch in Los Angeles. In among the salads, the soup and chardonnay, he was a star turn. It was supposed to make us all cough up donations.

But I was horrified! While Ms. Twist was busy being famous, she and her colleagues had torn a contented native from his roots and exposed him to jet travel, luxury hotels, shopping malls, automobiles, smart phones and all the paraphernalia and insanity of modern California living.

He could never be happy again. He had seen things he could never aspire to at home. Comparisons were forced on him. What was worse, he would return to life in the jungle and spread the tormenting vision of hedonistic luxury among his people, making EVERYONE discontented. All for a cheap money-raising publicity stunt. How very insensitive of you, Ms. Twist.

It does not do to argue Los Angeles life is far from a high-water mark of human achievement. I know that (I lived there for several years). But to a man and a people whose lives revolve around subsistence eating, fighting for survival, and a poor life expectancy, it must have been a dream of heaven, where over-size food portions come out of the kitchen, in exchange for paper, plastic or small metal pieces.

No hunting needed.

Gratitude

Avoiding comparisons intertwines with the practice of gratitude, like the leaves of a vine wrap themselves around the grapes!

Being truly grateful for what you have only works if you don’t make comparisons.

If I own two bicycles while my neighbor owns one, I feel worthy and am grateful. But if I own two bicycles while my neighbor owns a car, I don’t feel grateful for the two bicycles at all, but rather feel that the world has treated me unfairly and I suffer. 

The secret, then, is to be glad of even ONE bicycle. It’s an improvement on NO bicycle! All the rest is stress and overlay.

I like Jonathan Lockwood Huie’s take on this, which he calls “zero-based gratitude”. It needs a quick explanation: it is somewhat like zero-based budgeting, a process in which governments and businesses attempt to disregard the spending patterns of the past and come up with a realistic budget from a base-line of zero spending. In other words, every expenditure is “new” and has to be justified for itself, not in comparison to past expenditures.

Instead, says Huie, most people’s gratitude is best described as “incremental gratitude”. If they receive a raise, a bigger house, a third car, a new love interest, or a healthy new baby, they are grateful. If they lose their job, are forced to downsize, have a tiff with their spouse, or have an illness in the family, they are disappointed and angry. Why disappointed and angry? Because they have not been blessed with as much today as they were yesterday.

I would call it “conditional gratitude” and, of course, there’s really no such thing! If it’s conditional, comparisons are being brought in, and satisfaction gets thrown under the bus!

Consider adopting the ongoing practice of zero-based gratitude.

A Better Overall Working Philosophy

I am very fond of a teaching from Rosicrucian master George Alexander Sullivan (1890 – 1942), who lectured as Aureolis and delivered a great series of talks under the title “Soul Science”.* His words and inspiration are reported by Peter Caddy, founder of The Findhorn Foundation, in his book In Perfect Timing (1995).

Peter Caddy

Peter Caddy, founder of the famous Findhorn Foundation (along with wife Eileen and fellow-mystic Dorothy Maclean)

Love whatever you do. Learn to love the place you are in, the people you are with and the work that you do. And there is an important corollary to this simple admonition: just FIND SOMETHING about the persons, place and labor that you can love, and ignore the rest!

To make comparisons and decide this isn’t good and you would rather be somewhere else, doing something else, with other people than those who surround you is a crazy computation. Why hurt yourself?

I often append to this another teaching to Sullivan’s, which I picked up in my teens: freedom isn’t doing what you like; it’s liking what you do!

As a number-one unruly individual, who had trouble with discipline and authority, this happy-go-lucky philosophy works for me. It is very liberating indeed.

Try it sometime!

Stay Safe,

Prof. Keith Scott-Mumby

* Not to be confused by the “other” so-called Rosicrucian order, the Ancient and Mystical Order Rosae Crucis (AMORC), founded by American H. Spencer Lewis and which advertises extensively in the popular press.

PS. If you have a mind, join us for other spiritual musings like this every Sunday Morning, 11.00 am Pacific time. It’s not religious or denominational. Go here and register your interest by signing up.

There’s a nice gift for registering!

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