Comparison vs. Connection

 As human beings, we have a deep desire to be understood. We want people to know who we are and what we stand for.  We reach out for reassurance and comfort, especially during times of transition.

One of the central transitions that every person goes through is the journey from child to adult. Our teen years can be fraught with anxiety as we figure out who we are and what our place is in our community and in our world.  We try on different personas and look for feedback, we feel frustrated when things don't go our way, and we try to respond to this push within ourselves to make the world a better place.

It can get pretty complicated.

As human beings, we also have a deep desire to tell our story.  The purpose of storytelling is to enable us to connect with each other; however, when we lose our ability to listen and empathize, our relationships degrade into a game of verbal one-upmanship.  For example:

A new mother tells a mother of three about her birth story, including going through 14 hours of labour. The mother of three responds, "That's nothing - I was in labour for 27 hours with my second baby!"

A teen tells his dad he feels pressure from school and his friends and the dad responds,"When I was your age, I had a job, kept my grades up, and had a girlfriend. If I could do it, you can too!"

And then there's the classic "I walked ten miles to school uphill both ways, every day. In a blizzard."

Can you see how the storyteller could feel crushed and invalidated by these responses? Researcher and storyteller Brene Brown addresses this dichotomy of comparison and connection: 

Comparison fails to connect us to other people because it pushes us to focus on ourselves, rather than allowing us to make authentic connections with the people around us.  Sometimes it takes patience and self-control to keep ourselves from jumping in when someone is sharing their story.  But in holding back, we are opening up space for the other person to share themselves fully, enabling them to say what they need to say and be fully heard.  And in that moment of connection, trust is built and the storyteller is given the courage to keep on going, despite the frustration they are experiencing. 

For further reading: 
"'When I Was Your Age' And Other Pitfalls Of Talking To Teens About Stress" by Juli Fraga

Photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash