“Everyone’s the same on the inside.” That’s what we’re supposed to think isn’t it? That’s the PC view, that everyone, regardless of skin colour, disabilities, intellect, weight, class, age, health or belief is the same inside. It’s even quite easy to understand in a self-centered way, because it boils down to “Everyone is like me.”
But that’s what a child thinks. Children start off thinking, “Everyone is like me. Everyone likes what I like and hates what I hate. Everyone thinks like me and feels like me.” I can’t remember where I read it, but I once read that if you hang a seven-year old upside down in a cupboard everyday that he’ll assume that’s normal and that’s what happens to everyone else. Once a child grows beyond that stage though, they’ll start to see that everyone’s lives are not the same and subsequently that everyone’s thoughts, choices and feelings are not the same. As adults we are much more conscious of our differences, which is why the “everyone’s the same” message is pushed.
So in a world where we’re supposed to pretend everyone’s the same, it’s easy to put unrealistic expectations on ourselves. If we’re pretending to ourselves that we’re the same as an olympian/millionaire/model then it follows to think that we should be able to compete with them.* Thatcher’s (in)famous ability to survive on all but no sleep surely means I don’t really need 8 hours? A friend’s ability to work two jobs and still go out and party must mean this tiredness I feel on one job isn’t really valid. That girl in the yoga class can bend into all of those crazy shapes without trying, so I just need to practice harder to get there.
No. This is just a way of making ourselves miserable. Everyone is different, inside and out. You are not me. Maybe sometimes we have a lot in common, but we still have a lot of differences. Perhaps it’s scary to see that we are alone in ourselves, that the things that hurt me don’t hurt you, but it’s better to see that than to hurt ourselves with needless comparisons.
One of the triggers for me to write this post came from the website http://www.paulgrilley.com/category/2.html which has fascinating pictures of human bones. As I understand it, these pictures are designed to show yoga teachers what a wide natural variation there is between different people’s bones. Some of the pictures have captions such as “The bend at the neck of the femur of these two specimens vary by 40 degrees. This could mean 40 degrees wider splits.” It’s easy to imagine that, even though some of us are taller or bigger than others, our skeletons would be pretty much the same, but the variation in these pictures shows how much difference there is in our bones and so in the ways it is possible for us to move. I can’t get my body to do what an olympian’s does, but maybe that’s because my skeleton just isn’t capable of that. We’ve all got to work with what we’re given and accept that our differences are valid restrictions on what we can reasonably expect from ourselves. Managers speak of “managing expectation” as a way to prevent your customers being unhappy when you can’t give them the moon. On the one hand it’s corporate manipulation, but the other it’s a wise example to follow. When your expectations of yourself are unreasonable you can’t help but be disappointed.
So my bones might be really different from yours, and that’s something people need websites to show them. How much more different from yours might my brain be? We’ve been looking at bones since we were cave men, and it’s pretty easy to see how they fit together, but the workings of the brain? That’s not so easily understood, and a photo doesn’t convey much of use. But an understanding of the fact that our own brains might not be quite like everyone elses seems to me to be a useful weapon in the hunt for happiness. Before I can work out what makes me happy I’ve got to accept it might be different from what makes you happy. I’ve got to understand that what you thrive on could make me unhappy, and learn the way my brain and body work instead of worrying that they don’t work the same as yours and trying to “keep up with the Joneses.”
*Note to my readers who are interested in advice on weeding the mental garden: Here the weeds are “pretending to yourself” and “should.” I’d also be wary of “compete” which while not always a weed, can spread undesirably and be hard to control. Identify the weeds – and then don’t permit yourself to think that way. If you catch yourself thinking in weed ways, correct it. Of course, this is advice that works for my brain, so it might be different for yours!
With thanks to http://braithanlithe.wordpress.com/2012/10/04/a-bit-of-anatomical-wisdom-to-temper-my-courage/ for pointing me to the pictures and contributing to my theme.
Image courtesy of Master Isolated Images / FreeDigitalPhotos.net