Sam and I have started the series The Food that Built America. It tells the stories of companies that are staples of America and how they got started. They are stories of struggle and creativity. As we were halfway through the episode last night, I noted, “There are always two companies competing.”
Our capitalistic economy is dependent on comparison and competition.
Competition leads to innovation and resilience. Comparison drives branding and defining what you do and perhaps more importantly what you don’t do. It’s the knowing that the other company is hot on your tail that creates a drive to continue to push and create. This competition and comparison has brought us really important and transformative technology and process.
As we live and move around in this capitalistic economy, that comparison and competition filters down to us. When I was teaching, I found this again and again. Students wanted to be better than each other and they wanted to have competition. As a parent, I find this same competition and comparison while we are building gingerbread houses or riding bikes as they ask, “Yeah, but who’s is the best?”
Within these questions, is a deeper question, “Where do I stand? What am I good at?”
These identity questions are harder to articulate as children and as adults too. Rather than digging deep within ourselves to answer those questions, we distract ourselves with comparing ourselves to each other.
Churches report numbers in worship, numbers of baptism, numbers of salvations trying to understand whether they are successful or not. Schools rank students now even younger than when I taught, so that they are internalizing whether they are smart or not by how many classmates they are smarter than or who are smarter than them. Moms engage in mommy wars over breastfeeding or formula feeding and then move on to baby-led weaning or purees all the way struggling deep within themselves to answer the deep questions, “Am I doing this right? Where do I stand? Am I a good mom?”
I’m giving up the comparison hustle.
I’m not telling my kids whose gingerbread house is better, but rather asking them if they are proud of what they’ve built. I’m not engaging in conversations about whether there is a better or best way to feed your baby, but rather offering gratitude that we have food to eat when so many families don’t. I’m not trying to sway people to come to our church or engaging in conversations about why are church is better, but rather with God’s people learning how to create sanctuary where all are welcome.
As I try to refocus, I know that I will fall into comparison thinking again because it is so prevalent. When I feel myself slipping back into that way of thinking, I will remember these affirmations, “You are the beloved child of God. You are called to bring love and light to all you encounter.”