January 6, 1998

Statue of Limitations

I was trained at an early age to compare. And others would sometimes do the comparison for me. I am sure that some of the comparisons were favorable, but those are not the ones that I remember.

I could not sing as well as Kevin McGrath. I was not as handsome as Jackie Newhall. I was not as hard working as my cousin, Bobby. I did not study all of the time like my cousin, Jackie. I was not as smart as Tommy Kosnic. I was not as good at sports as my brothers.

These patterns of being “less than” were carried forward. The names above are all from grammar school, but I could give you other lists from high school, college, adult work life and social life.

Comparisons are still part of my life today. I am not as physically fit as so and so. I am not as good a writer as some newspaper columnist. I will never be able to hit a softball as well as that guy who is ten years older than me. And on, and on, and on.

Michaelangelo’s The David is an ideal which does not suffer by comparison. You never hear, “Yeah, that statue is pretty good, but did you see the one in the other room?” Or, “He was good, but have you seen the stuff by that Rodin guy?” No, The David stands alone. Were he alive, he would probably feel pretty good about himself.

I was reminded of the power of comparison when listening to sports radio. I know, it is an unlikely source of wisdom, but a nugget dropped in. Larry Johnson, a sports cartoonist, talked about having a noticeable talent for drawing as a child. His cousin was also talented and one family member told Larry that he was good, but that he would never be as good as his cousin. Instead of all of the praise which he had received, this one comment came back to him over and over through his years. The comparison turned into a limitation.

The problem comes when I allow my comparisons to limit me. Notice that all of my comparisons are now self-generated. I no longer need others to do my dirty work.

The insidious part of these comparisons is that they are all true. If truth is the measure, I am cooked. If I accept a negative comparison as a failing in myself, it becomes a limitation. Too many comparisons and too many limitations lead to paralysis.

So what is the answer here? Well, not making comparisons would help, but that is a tall order. The answer is to ask a different question. The better question is, “So what?!!!” And you have to ask it loudly. So what if someone is taller, shorter, thinner, fatter, or smarter. SO WHAT?

In grammar school I would have answered, “Sew buttons on your old man’s shirt.” That is just another way of saying, “It does not matter.” Say it loud, IT DOES NOT MATTER! The comparison is true but it does not matter because I am still me with all that I bring into the world.

I am physically fit enough to move comfortable through the world. I may not be the very best writer, but I am good enough so that others want to read me. And I can still hit the ball often enough to contribute.

That is enough. The statute of limitations on that old way of being controlled by negative comparisons has run. I am sure that The David, if he were not so limited, would smile.

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