Identifying with Other’s

I hear that a lot when I speak to groups. The speaker implies that my experience is so uniquely horrific that most folks simply can’t relate. But it goes a step further—somehow, my loss is “worse” than anything most other folks have experienced.

I don’t agree.

When I’m feeling a little sarcastic I’m tempted to reply, “I hear what you’re saying, and I appreciate your concern. But being bald isn’t really as bad as you think.”

I know—it’s a really terrible joke. But doesn’t the corny humor conceal a grain of truth?
“None of us can identify with what you’ve been through.”
None of us can truly identify with another’s experience. If you have a full, luxurious head of hair, you certainly can’t appreciate having most of your scalp involuntarily exposed to the weather. If you can walk and run and jump, you don’t truly understand what it’s like to suddenly lose those abilities forever.

But I cannot fully comprehend the nightmare of abuse or the horror of a child’s death. I don’t understand what it’s like to be in prison. There’s something unique about each loss that makes it, on one level, incomprehensible to anyone else.

My question isn’t about the uniqueness—it’s about the comparing. I guess I get concerned when people compare their pain—or their happiness—to someone else’s.

Some people go even further. “Hearing your story makes me feel guilty about my petty troubles.”

So if I understand it correctly, your pain suddenly disappeared because I showed up with a sadder story? And if someone with terminal cancer enters the room, I guess I’m no longer entitled to my sense of loss?

This preposterous obsession with comparison stems from the culture’s pervasive attitude of scarcity. We act like there’s a limited supply of esteem or self-worth or love. Contentment and happiness become objects of competition; it you want more you have to take them from someone else.

I think it’s this attitude of scarcity that compels us to compare pain and loss. If happiness is defined relative to others, then misery must be that way as well.

It’s a lie.

The simple truth is that one person’s pain has nothing to do with another’s. As a friend of mine says, “Everyone’s worst is their worst.”

I believe God wants me to operate from an attitude of abundance. In John 10:10 Jesus says, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” The KJV translation says, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”

Scarcity and comparing are rooted in insecurity. We strive for more in a futile attempt to fill the void of “not enough.” It’s an endless death spiral of guilt and resentment that divides us into “haves” and “have-nots,” “fortunate” and “less fortunate.” It’s a world of “my car’s better than yours” and “your pain’s worse than mine.”

Abundance and fullness offer freedom. When contentment and peace are freely available to all, I can experience compassion without pity and celebration without resentment or guilt.

Pain, loss, and grief are perhaps the most universally human experiences, and what unites is far more powerful than what divides. We devalue this common understanding when we insist on comparing, categorizing, and judging our triumphs and tragedies.

We’d do better to seek understanding that allows us to support each other with unconditional love. You may not know what it’s like to be paralyzed, but you know exactly what it’s like to grieve and ask why God allowed such pain.

That’s an attitude of abundance that fosters growth, wisdom, and transparent relationships.

I do not believe my struggle is any “worse” or “better” than yours—except maybe for the bald part.

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Copyright 2010 by Rich Dixon, All Rights Reserved. Used by permission.

Rich is an author and speaker. He is the author of:

Relentless Grace: God’s Invitation To Give Hope Another Chance. Visit his web site

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