Dear Princess ‘Ishka,
There is a guy when I go swimming, who is particularly remarkable. Not only for his pretty face, like one of those Hollywood Ryans, either Gosling or Reynolds. Not only for the abs so hard you could safely test North Korea nukes upon. Not only for those particular flexions of biceps, shaking of muscles or the simple walking in slow motion that attractive guys seem to do almost inadvertently.
No. I wouldn’t find those things more remarkable than my suspicious objectifying attitude. What is remarkable is that he is a swimmer. A remarkable swimmer.
I tried once to describe him to S, and the first thing I associated him to was a whale. “A whale?” said S, unsure about whether I was joking or I already went completely nuts. Yes, a whale, because whales are big and elegant. And he is big and, as soon as he enters water, he is one of the most elegant creatures I have seen in a while.
The physical strength I lack makes him so elegant. Like whales, whose infinite muscular strength to lift the tons of their bodies above the surface of the ocean inspire that feeling between admiration and awe.
Whales are the sovereigns of the oceans, and that guy is the king of the swimming pool. Or rather the whale among human swimmers.
I often ask myself what am I doing? What are you doing ‘Miasha? He is the one who has the right to swim, not you, miserable bony thingy. He is producing beauty as he moves in the liquid element. You are just ridiculously delusional if you think you’ll ever be half of that beautiful!
When we are children, we often come across the paradoxes of adulthood. One in particular I’ve always found particularly paradoxical: is comparison with our fellow human beings a good thing? This is a controversial question, especially during childhood, when it seems that comparing yourself to your schoolmates who take better marks makes you develop humility, but comparing yourself to those who take worse marks makes you suddenly arrogant.
In a social context, comparison is unavoidable, independently of whom you are comparing yourself to. Indeed, I think that it is rational! To compare yourself to the people in your surroundings helps you to better judge your own conduct. You become more self-critical, more self-aware and the more you compare, the better you can understand other people.
Comparison has a dark side, however. And maybe that’s why our childhood educators were warning us against it. Excessive comparison can lead to unhealthy competition, abuse of power, bullying, anxiety, overrating, underrating, the feeling that the worth of a person can only depend on how much of her life she is disposed to sacrifice on the altar of the selfish and obtuse aspiration to shine brighter than the others.
What to do, when we lack the excellence of others in an activity we value a lot? When the comparison is going to lead us to a sense of inferiority, if ever we don’t want to be delusional about our limited capacities? Does it still make sense to struggle?
Of course, the answer is yes, for we needn’t be excellent in every activity we value. But comparison can let us down. When someone is simply prettier than us, more intelligent or more creative, how can’t the comparison undermine our self-confidence?
Again, my childhood educators were used to tell me to ignore the others and walk my way. But this is delusional! You can’t ignore Ryan Gosling when you are just an ordinary ‘Miasha!
I think there is a way out of this paradox. It might be not the easiest, but I tested it and it somehow works for me. When the comparison produces negative feelings in us, we can transform them into admiration.
Admiration allows us to “absorb” the strength and beauty of others, as members of the same cultural framework of meaning. If we value swimming, we value who can swim beautifully the most. Hence we shall admire remarkable swimmers the most. The same if we value singing, drawing, astrophysics, dancing, engineering, etc. We can capture the qualities of the excellent human beings around us in our eyes and minds, rejoice at their thought and create our world of role models.
The virtues and the natural gifts of our role models can also enrich the understanding of our systems of values. People almost have a responsibility to cultivate their qualities, not only for themselves, but also for the values they represent. So the singer got to sing, the teacher to teach, the swimmer to swim. The human to value and the whale to whale.