Comparing yourself to others? Look deeper.
A Christian Science perspective: On overcoming attitudes of perceived inferiority and superiority.
—A college professor once explained to me that when two monkeys meet in the jungle, they must very quickly assess themselves in relation to each other in order to determine which one is of higher rank. Each monkey must instantly decide: Is this monkey approaching me the same species as I am? A member of my family group, or a stranger? Bigger and stronger than I am, or smaller and weaker?
The answers would determine the proper monkey etiquette, and the monkey who self-evaluated as inferior in status would defer to the dominant monkey and move aside so it could pass.
How often do we think like those monkeys as we scamper along the branches of daily life? It can be tempting to compare ourselves with others – “She has prettier hair than I do.” “I have a better job than the guy next door.” “Everyone else in my class is smarter than I am.” “My political and religious beliefs are better than theirs.”
When we compare ourselves with others in this way, we have judged according to the law of the jungle, the outward appearance. But there’s so much more to us than that. Through God’s grace we each have the natural ability to look at things from a spiritual perspective, to perceive ourselves and others the way God does, which helps us to overcome a sense of superiority or inferiority.
Christ Jesus showed how we can quit judging according to outward appearances, by understanding a deeper reality, the law of God, or divine Science of being. Mary Baker Eddy, who founded this paper, wrote, “Jesus beheld in Science the perfect man, who appeared to him where sinning mortal man appears to mortals” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” pp. 476-477). He did not behold the “perfect man” in physique, personality, career, family history, connections, fame, or fortune. He healed people by seeing their spiritual perfection as God’s loved creation.
Many years ago I was pouring out my challenges and frustrations with my workplace to a Christian Science practitioner – someone who helps solve problems through prayer based on an understanding of Jesus’ healing theology. I was feeling inadequate. I seemed incapable of working out my problems. And then I complained that some of my co-workers just weren’t taking their jobs very seriously and that made it hard for me because I was trying to do the very best I could.
The practitioner was incredibly patient with me and shared very helpful ideas, but one thing he said startled me: “James, you can’t afford to think you are superior to anyone, especially your co-workers.”
I’d recognized that I felt inferior, but I hadn’t realized I was also entertaining thoughts of superiority. What a jolt! As we continued talking, I realized that superiority and inferiority are two sides of the same coin. I came to see that there was a truer, more spiritual way to see myself and others. God is divine Love, which created us in the very spiritual likeness of itself and knows each of us as the perfect individual reflection of its majesty, glory, beauty, strength, and abundance (see I John 4:8 and Genesis 1:26, 27). We all have an unbreakable relation to the Divine and a heritage as God’s children. No one has a higher or lower worth or greater or lesser capability to reflect God’s love, grace, strength, and intelligence.
I left the practitioner’s office that day humbled – in a good way – and prayed with those ideas for several hours. That conversation still stands out to me as a major turning point in my life. These were the first steps in my ongoing journey of not defining myself or others based on the material picture of who we seem to be, a lesson which has made a huge difference in my life over the years. I am increasingly at peace with who I am and more free to appreciate others for who they are.
We really don’t need to think like monkeys in the jungle, trying to decide if we are superior or inferior to others. We can pray to see ourselves and others as God created and ordained us to be, and strive to walk in that direction in our daily lives.