Love in the age of comparison: Raising a human to feel, to fight, to survive
In many ways the human mind seems to have a bias against itself.
Here’s what I mean: when confronted with a comparison of oneself to another person, we automatically err on the side of feeling as if that other person has it better.
As a result, we are less.
Less together, less beautiful, less rich, less exciting.
From early times, we were motivated by one another. To survive as a species, we had to live in close community with one another. We were in one another’s space, reach and eyeshot all the time. We influenced one another greatly and performed our responsibilities for the survival, the good, of all of us collectively.
Today we still look to one another to see ourselves, to gauge ourselves, to take stock of where we are.
I consider it a great blessing I did not have a readily available comparison machine shoved inches from my face as a young adult.
I do not believe I would have survived that.
As a teen and young adult, I was an emotionally raw, passionate and deep feeler.
As it was, there were moments of heartbreak that brought me close to my own destruction.
I felt everything.
I am now the mother of a person who is going through those teen and early adult years.
She’s much more reserved with her emotions than I ever was.
I am thankful for that, but I also pause to wonder how the need to compartmentalize the barrage of feelings a comparison machine elicits might be sanding down her ability to truly experience life’s emotion.
To raise children to survive in this day and age means building into them a certain level of emotional detachment. At the same time, I am building up her ability to exercise empathy, as that is one of the key attributes of hope for our next generation.
As a parent, I want my child to be full of caring for others, I want her to accept people. I want her to extend her heart. But I do not want her to be devastated by every photo post of her good friends having a blast together — without her — to break her spirit. I don’t want her to gauge her worth as a human being by how many likes her last post got.
As a parent, I have to walk the line of creating an emotionally available person who is also confident and whole enough not be irreparably harmed by the powerful visuals and pretending, which automatically hacks into her mind, triggering her bias against herself.
It’s a very difficult balance to strike.
I continue to return to the idea of grounding her in a digitally free reality whenever I can. I am most proud of the way we kept technology out of her hands until just before her move to high school. I am most proud of the way we have provided her with technology-free experiences that also give her the chance to see the world, to relate to people in person and to test her own leadership ability.
But have I done enough?
Who knows if those experiences will arm her to face a world that is increasingly divided between the idea that technology is a great connector and a great divider.
I initially thought it was a connector, then a divider, then a connector. Now I’m back to divider, and leaning Pisa-like toward insidious divider.
Of course, I need to reckon with my part in all of it. I participate, I post, I take advantage of its connective power. (Read: this post.)
Where does that place me?
That interior struggle aside, I regularly return to the idea I need to continue to find ways to ground my daughter in the real world, with real people, who have real emotions, who struggle with real issues.
I return to sharing the thought that underneath someone’s perfect post, is a delicate and bruised human being, endeavoring to do life right and to feel good about the choices they make, someone who needs love and acceptance.
I return to family gatherings, to showering her with love, and not just in-the-happy-moments love, but hard-work love, and giving-people-grace-and-second-chances love and saying-no-to-the-easy-way-out love.
I tell her, regularly, and with the sincere conviction of a woman in full: Love is the most powerful force in the universe.
I return to the idea my role is to push those once teeny-tiny baby toes and tender pink feet into the earth of reality, into the soft soil of this beautiful world, one that is not against her — but is turning, each day, in her favor.