(This post was originally written for Facebook, I apologize for the difference in tone and style. I find that different media affect how I write, due to the audience I address.)
Dear kids, if I can get one message across I’ll feel I have won:
Life is not a competition.
We all are born differently, even those of us who are born to the same parents. We all are given a different measure of time for our lives, minutes, the most precious currency, and nobody really knows how much they get until one day suddenly the time is up.
We all have different priorities, so don’t compare yourself with me or with your brother, sister, father, you name it. Also don’t criticize how another person runs their life because you are not them. Stephen Covey identifies the four “toxic c’s” that destroy friendships, relationships and families more consistently than anything else:
If you look closely, they all are the same: Comparing. You would not complain about your working hours, for instance, if every person on Earth had identical working hours to yours. You would not compete with your neighbour (or more likely with your “nearest”) for the nicest car, house, hairdo if everyone on Earth had exactly the same. And you would not criticize the lifestyle of a relation if everyone’s lifestyles were identical. Comparing is the basic problem here.
The point is that such a world is not possible. Think about it. Even the idea is circular. If everyone were an accountant, there would be no need for accountants and the job would not exist. If everyone were a doctor, the need for doctors would fall away, and therefore the job definition. And if everyone were an artist, who would ever buy another’s painting?
So our choices create our diversity, and our diversity is what makes this life, culture and civilization possible. This is not achieved with competing. Life is not a dire competition. We don’t vie for resources, we create resources, and the only remaining question is, do we know how to share or trade them?
So, if I am content with less money than you, why should you look at me funny? Perhaps my focus is on more intangible things – time spent with loved ones, intergenerational contact, spiritual exploration, the creation of culture. These things are generally not as well remunerated as more mundane pastimes but if you’re not in love with money, they are equally or more rewarding.
Then again, every life is presented with different challenges. I believe a lot of this is karmic and the rocks in your way lie waiting for you even before you are born. You are free to pick a path around them, but they won’t go away, because they are what you’re supposed to learn. Some people only get financial rocks. Others get much more serious rocks, like the challenge of looking after a disabled family member.
The most important thing you can do for yourself is to learn to accept your challenges, and while not giving in to them, not allow them to take you over, either. I believe that once you have learnt the (deep karmic) lesson about one type of rock, the landscape changes, and possibly after a little break or possibly right away, you are faced with a different type of rock. The weird thing is that many times, other people can’t even see your rocks. They only observe your actions and have all sorts of “better ideas”, forgetting that they can’t see the whole picture. Nobody ever sees the whole picture of someone else’s life, and those who think they do, are simply arrogant (that would typically be a karmic lesson they need to learn).
So, children, life is not a competition. Life is a learning curve, for each and every one of us alive, and the lessons are not the same for everyone. “Walk in another’s shoes” is perhaps one of the most deeply relevant clichees of our time. This is why homeschooling is relevant; why even in a standardized school system no two kids actually learn the same thing; why it is critically important to teach children to think and create.
Also, the next time you criticize someone (even if you’re only doing it in your heart), examine your own life. Perhaps the very thing that you’re criticizing about them is the one thing that annoys you most about yourself? Perhaps it is not a lesson they need to learn but that you need to learn?