The past few months have been a whirlwind. And the next few promise to be as well.
Which has meant less writing and more packing, painting and planning. But recently a friend of a friend dropped some wisdom and I don’t feel right keeping it to myself.
I was latching on to the phrase “comparison is the thief of joy.” Reminding myself when I struggled over facebook posts or baby showers, that comparing my pain from infertility or foster care, was hurting me, not helping me. And so I should just stop.
As if it was that easy.
But then a friend posted on facebook a wonderful blog that talked about this very thing. The woman struggled with terrible cancer that was destroying her organs and found herself acting as the “perspective police.”
Yes. That’s just what I do.
Feeling on the one hand, that I should complain about nothing because I have parents who love me, healthy food and safe housing. I have never gone through what so many of the precious foster children who come through our doors have faced. How can I possibly ache over not having forever children.
My sadness feels like nothing. By comparison.
Or on the other side, how can I feel genuine empathy for another momma struggling with her child’s terrible two’s as I ache to have children of my own?
My only solution was to simply stop comparing. But as humans we do so naturally. Can I stop? Should I?
And just as I felt at the end of my rope on it all, a woman I’ve never met shared a powerful insight on the thread of Facebook chatter. Here’s a paraphrased version:
To a certain extent empathy requires comparison at least in the sense of “noting similarities and differences.” Allowing us to relate, to imagine the nuances of another’s suffering, specific words or acts that might be meaningful. Noting dissimilarities (starting with the fact that we’re two different people, even if our suffering were identical) allows us to stand at a respectful distance, bearing witness to another’s suffering without claiming to know exactly what they feel or need.
So maybe comparing isn’t the problem precisely, but competing. And maybe it’s inevitable that when two or more people in a relationship or community are going through really hard things, if we are struggling to find a place to put our pain, we may unintentionally slip from comparison to competition. I think there’s the potential, too, for two or more people to feel that there is a competition of suffering when really each party may simply be making a bid for compassion, looking for a safe place to have his own pain seen.