The Cost of Comparison

I have a problem that I’m too embarrassed to talk about, even with my doctor. I have a condition known as IIS (aka, Inexpensive Import Syndrome), which is similar to its cousin, LMS (Little Man Syndrome). IIS causes the sensation of inferiority whenever I’m in the presence of a superior automobile, and it happens most often at stop lights when a Corvette or a German import pulls up alongside me.

It begins with nothing more than a sidelong glance, and then the condition creates some physical manifestations. My pulse quickens. Drool forms in the corner of my mouth.  My eyes undress the curves of the fenders and leather interior of the car next to me, and then they return to my own tinny frame and vinyl interior. Finally, a slight headache forms near my cerebral cortex and makes my eyes feel dry.

The condition then enters phase two, the one where the Amygdala gets flooded. As my thinking becomes clouded, I begin feeling sorry for myself, telling myself stories of my own inadequacies.

“I’m a bad person,” I say in my head. “If I were a good person, I’d have a nicer car.”

As cortisol pumps through my system, I begin feeling bitter.

“I deserve better,” I say, half believing. “And even if I don’t, who does that guy think he is sitting in that expensive car?!”

If the driver next to me looks in my direction with a smile and a wave, I tell myself that he’s sneering and gloating that he’s better, richer, and more charming than me, and that his kids will go to Ivy schools while mine will have to settle for community college.

In the final stage of my illness, I follow the other driver home. And then I key his car.

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Okay, true, IIS has not yet been recognized in the latest DSM as an actual illness. But it’s just a matter of time. Many conditions now deemed diseases or mental conditions start off with negative feelings translated into negative thoughts that lead, eventually, to negative behaviors.

How many times have you let your own negative feelings and thoughts grow as a a result of comparing yourself with another? Compared to you, someone else is richer, better looking, smarter, has nicer things, a bigger office, a higher title, or more friends. It’s harsh, but true. Comparisons may lead you to feeling inferior, which in turn, can foster resentment instead of contentment.

As the father of two teenagers, I hear every day how my house, car, food, and clothing allotments are sub-par. Based on what? I ask. Invariably, that opinion comes from my children who are comparing themselves to kids who live in McMansions who are chauffeured to soccer games in vehicles that have more speakers than my home sound system, whose idea of a snack is frog legs from Hugo’s Frog Bar, and who wouldn’t be caught dead in clothes that don’t bear the Juicy or A&F label.

St. Paul said it best when he wrote: I have learned to be content in any circumstance. I have experienced times of need and times of abundance. In any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of contentment, whether I go satisfied or hungry, have plenty or nothing.

By fighting the urge to compare and then obsess when I fail to measure favorably, I’ve learned to shut off the most damaging parts of my IIS. Which is good since my new neighbor drives a Porsche.

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