Why do other people’s flaws make us feel so good?

Not too long ago, I was at a public event with a lot of people–some I knew, and some I didn’t. For those who don’t know me very well, let me just say right now that I’m a bit of an introvert: I am very chatty and quick to share whatever from the comfort of my anonymous computer, and same goes if I know you really well, in person. But I can be reserved and hard to get to know in real life, and I am NO GOOD at big parties. I get quiet, find a life-raft of a friend to hold on to, and don’t let go until the event is over.

So this was basically my nightmare: huge room, 200+ people, and maybe only 10 I felt I knew well. I was hanging with one of these people and chatting, quasi-comfortably, when she pointed to someone I recognized and said, loudly, “WOW. [Name] has gotten FAT.”

And I, feeling uncomfortable, agreed.

Can I just share with you the shame I felt in that moment? Just as I voiced my “Oh…yeah,” and looked across the room at the person question, a family member of that person turned around and looked right at us. I’m certain we were heard. Even if she chose not to share our conversation with her loved one, I’m sure our words still hurt her, by extension.

I felt shame for my part in that conversation. That person’s weight gain didn’t even register with me. But even if it had, why do we feel the need to comment on things like that? Why do we care?

I’ve thought a lot about this over the past little while. I love my friend–the one who made the comment. I don’t mean to vilify her, or whatever she might have been thinking. I really don’t think she intended unkindness in any way–I think her mouth just spouted out what her brain was thinking, and if she could have taken it back, she would have.

What’s interesting to me, as I think about all this, is the human need we have sometimes to compare. We look at others and say to ourselves, “Well, at least I don’t look like THAT.” Or, “Wow. That was a really stupid mistake. Unbelievable. That makes me feel so much better about my life choices, because they’re not THAT bad!” Or, secretly, “Phew. At least I didn’t get fat like THAT person.” Sometimes we even share those thoughts with other people, because they just feel so validating. I really do think it’s human nature.

But how much better might things be if, instead, we only compared ourselves to ourselves? What would it be like if we recognized that we are flawed, just like everyone else, and that while some of our flaws are visible, some of them run deep and hidden. Everyone has both kinds. Everyone could use a little support and a little grace.

Good ol’ Jane had it figured out 200 years ago:

quote-incline-us-oh-god-to-think-humbly-of-ourselves-to-be-severe-only-in-the-examination-jane-austen-38-74-78
Image credit azquotes.com

And it still applies today.

LessonsFromAmy4
Image credit azquotes.com

I know I wish I had behaved differently, at that party. I wish I had the opportunity to apologize for my actions. I’m trying to be better. I’m trying to find ways to make sure my words support and uplift the people around me. I’m not perfect at it, yet, but that’s OK, too. In the end, I’m trying to remember that the only person I need to compare me with is me.

How about you? Have you ever said something you wished you could take back? Do you ever feel like someone else’s life makes yours seem a little better by comparison? Is it just me who finds this hard? 

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