Poor Albert Einstein. At the ripe old age of 26, he published several theories that redirected the field of physics and set it on a new course. His approach was groundbreaking and considered brilliant. Even to this day, people still pay homage to his intelligence. Many people assumed his mathematical and theoretical brilliance would be transferable to all areas of life. They asked his opinion on every subject imaginable and he gave it. In some areas, he was quirky. In others, he was mistaken. And in some, he was insightful enough. But in most regards, Albert’s life in general, his opinions and his personal behavioral choices, fell well within the range of ‘normal’. He was very human. Living up to one’s own reputation can be a burden. Albert was not frequently described, in any account of him that I’ve read, as happy.
Still, it must have been hard to become the standard against which all other human intelligences would be measured. I never met the man but I’ve been compared with him many times in my life. Not once favorably, by the way. But I never took offense at this, any more than I would have taken offense at someone pointing out to me that I was no Michelangelo in my sketch book or no Bernstein in my musical abilities or Baryshnikov on the dance floor. I have never tried to be like somebody else. It seemed like a full time job simply trying to be myself…even attempting to discover whatever that might mean took a long time.
I mention all of this because we live in a culture and a time that has placed a great deal of emphasis upon comparing things and people. We may not know what the absolute value of anything might be (the absolute truth about anything or if something is absolutely beautiful to all people for all time or if this is the absolutely best piece of pizza ever) but we are definitely sure that this is more truthful than that, or that this looks more beautiful than that, or that this one tastes way better than that one. This is where Albert comes in again. We’ve become marginally accustomed to the theory of relativity and practice it now with regards to truth, beauty and pizza quality. In fact, we practice it almost constantly. There’s a whole spectrum of valuations we make in our lives that are ‘relative’, i.e. how we perceive things will depend upon whether we’re riding on the train or standing on the train station platform. (I pray you’re familiar with that example as it has been used so often to illustrate Einstein’s theory).
I want to tell you that comparisons themselves ultimately have no value. We will never grow towards happiness or fulfillment if we are constantly judging ourselves against someone or something else. Even when we are comparing our current self with the version of ourselves from a previous point in time, it serves no real purpose. We’re no longer in that place in time and awareness. We are here. As I attempt to judge or evaluate myself in relation to others, I will always be in one of two categories…better than or not as good as. The relativity of both these categories negates the usefulness of either.
So I would encourage you to trust that your honesty will always steer you towards truth, to appreciate whatever beauty it is you see in front of you, and to relish pizza in all its glorious versions.
My deepest understanding is that we are all created equals.
When I am constantly comparing, I lose sight of that truth quickly. And I suffer.
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