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Excerpt #7 of Rachel Kelly's 'Singing in the Rain' - Quit comparing
Posted by SANE
19th Mar 2019

Quit comparing

As the saying nearly goes, comparisons have always been odious, but never more so than in the age of social media. Navigating the digital world is so challenging that this is the very last exercise of the book! It can seem as if other people’s successes are constantly thrust upon us in a stream of photos, videos and messages. We are all complicit in the great digital game of curating perfection. I know I try and show myself in a good light on my own Facebook account and Twitter and Instagram feeds.

Yet when we compare ourselves with others, we often fail to remember that they too are signalling perfection. We believe that they lead shiny, glossy lives, which makes us feel inadequate ourselves. Social media acts as a giant incubator for insecurity and self-doubt, as we are constantly exposed to the sight of other people seemingly having a good time.

As Chekhov’s Ivan Ivanovich says: ‘We see those who go to the market to buy food, who eat in the daytime and sleep at night, who prattle away, merry... But we neither hear nor see those who suffer, and the terrible things in life are played out behind the scenes.’

Unsurprisingly, such negative feelings aren’t good for us. Resenting what others have makes us unhappy both over the long term and in the moment.

How then can we stop ourselves feeling inadequate? Social media, or those we follow, can’t make us feel anything. We decide how we interact and how we feel about those on social media, just as we do in real life. If we imagine we are forced to feel a certain way by our interaction, then we give away all agency in how we respond. We can make choices about that response. And those responses are changeable.

I can feel both negative and positive when I interact with social media, depending on the day. In general, I feel best when I remember that I am looking at the way someone wants to portray themselves. I am sure like all of us they too have rows and tricky dynamics. Who doesn’t?

A second helpful attitude I find is to remember we are all equal. We are all subject to the same levellers, be they poor health, suffering or, ultimately, death. All of us humans happen to be sharing this planet at this exact moment in history and are in this together. That’s why the second exercise is for you to fill in your own social profile, as well as someone you admire.

A final step is to use social media with considerable care, taking time to deflate its impact by being deliberate about the company we keep online. Be wary of randomly looking at those for whom you feel a corrosive envy. Instead, proactively seek out genuine stars who can become role models in a rather lovely, old-fashioned way.

For example, you might choose to look at Michele Obama’s profile on Facebook in which she describes herself as ‘Girl from the South Side, and former First Lady, wife, mother, dog-lover. Always hugger- in-chief ’. Of course, being a dog-lover, she’s my kind of person. Her own inspiration is her husband Barack Obama, who in turn sums up his philosophy by saying on his website: ‘You have the talent and the power to improve the lives of your fellow human beings.’ I feel my better self when I read that.

Engaging with someone whose goals and mind you admire, rather than how someone looks, can make you more likely to achieve those same goals. Concentrate on someone’s inner attractiveness rather than their appearance. The company of those you admire will leave you feeling galvanised and energised to follow their example. Psychologists describe looking up to others in this way as ‘emulative envy’, which is a good thing.

It’s even better to spend time face to face with those we admire, though I don’t think the Obamas have plans to meet me any time soon. But if I can, I seek out my role models, going to hear them speak if they are well known.

Not all my pin-ups are famous: one is my mother, another the peer-support worker at a local charity. In general, my heroes tend to have some of the qualities I lack at times but wish to practise more regularly. They are calm, they listen, they let others speak, and they are trying to make a difference to others. One day, I want to be more like them. There is always more to learn...

Your turn to see others with more admiration and less jealousy on social media:

  • Decide on someone who is a role model for you and sketch out a social media profile. Fill in some details about their life that inspire you, as well as a photo or drawing of them if that’s easy.
  • Then do the same for yourself, rewarding aspects of your life that you are proud of.
  • Also annotate your image with your situation when the photograph was taken. Was all as perfect as it seems? The likelihood is that the problems and insecurities of others are also hidden behind a pretty picture.
  • Next time you encounter someone you feel jealous of, write down two challenges they have faced to remind yourself of our common humanity. You may find that when you next see this person, you pick up on these positive characteristics more than you used to.
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