Today’s short video, directed by Nima Raoofi, shows us the sadness of a child who compares his poor and pitiful shoes to those of another boy who he meets in the park. It’s an experience that we all have: the experience of comparing ourselves. Why am I like this and he or she not? Why isn’t reality the way that I want it to be?
The desire for a better pair of shoes is in itself valid; what the video is pointing to is more the motivation behind the desire. In our consumeristic society, one might get the idea that the act of buying is practically speaking the fundamental human act.
The danger lies not in the goodness of what is bought nor, in the video’s case, in the desire for a nice pair of shoes. The danger lies in the fact that many times we do so aspiring to assure ourselves and others of our worth. Thus that embedded thought that lurks behind so many decisions today: “I am what I buy; I am what I have“. So we go out and buy things for the pathetic reason of proving ourselves to be worthy somehow. Or, what’s worse, we go out to buy just to show that we are more valuable than others. A study by researchers at the University of Warwick and Cardiff University found that money only makes people happier if it improves their social rank. The researchers found that simply being highly paid wasn’t enough — to be happy, people must perceive themselves as being more highly paid than their friends and work colleagues (Source).
With this kind of logic, when we look at others who have better things than we do, we obviously feel insecure, underrated, and perhaps invidious. Now what the video beautifully demonstrates is the fact that in falling into this kind of logic, we not only cause ourselves unnecessary pain and anguish, we also close ourselves off to the others. Not only am I reducing myself to what I have, but I also reduce the others to what they have. This is an unjust judgement (of both the other and myself) and is one that ignores a depth of richness and individuality to such a point that it could logically be considered insane.
It is interesting to note, that when we close ourselves off to others, through judgements and hardness of heart, we tend to do so socially speaking as well. Notice that the young boy was so immersed in his comparisons that he never actually spoke to the other boy. Perhaps if he were to do so, he would have quickly realized his situation.
When speaking to others, especially the youth, it is always important to explain things in a positive direction, without sacrificing the truthful demands of a virtuous life. Put simply, one could say something like this: The desire for a new pair of shoes is legitimate. It is wrong, however, when we begin to compare ourselves about stupid things like who has more or who has less. In addition to being wrong in itself for the reason mentioned above (not respecting the dignity of the person), it also closes us off to others, thus frustrating an even greater and more important desire, which is the desire for friendship. Only when we learn to put ourselves in the other shoes, only when we step beyond our selfish considerations, will we be able to discover what we are really looking for.
The cost of comparison is too high a price to pay. Instead, let us take a step beyond the logic of comparison and enter in a logic of communion, a logic that responds to a much deeper desire of the heart and one that promises much greater happiness.