Author and activist Anne Lamott was once quoted as saying, “Never compare your insides to everyone else’s outsides.”
But isn’t that what we do all the time?
Convinced that our inner world, with its own amalgamation of fears, doubts, and past trauma, is somehow more flawed than the person flaunting their perfect beach vacation on social media, we draw ourselves further into the background and feel the weight of the isolation sink in—its heaviness like a large tent now collapsed and soaking wet from an unexpected overnight storm.
This isn’t a situation any of us want to find ourselves in. Already dealing with complicated emotions—some of which we have never openly shared—we now have the added strain of feeling alone in our experience of pain. The game of erroneous comparison, which is played ad nauseum thanks to the overwhelming presence social media has in our lives, has led us down a path thick with vines and weeds. We are lost, entangled in nature’s own design, and no longer able to see from which direction we came. In order to find our way out, we need a good old fashioned sling blade or bush axe. One that will help us cut our way through the daily deluge of social media encounters that promise to make us feel alone and inadequate. In what might be the first time in years, this process of routine and systematic cutting will finally allow us to catch sight of the trail—giving us the opportunity to walk out of the jungle-like thicket and see from the outside looking in.
Free from the overgrowth, we now can observe things more clearly. Sometimes it takes only a day. Sometimes a week, a month, a year, or perhaps more. Longer is usually better. This buffer of space and time allows wisdom to develop, and from that wisdom we can more easily see the truth of what was right there in front of us the whole time. My break from social media ended up becoming a full-on termination. Now, almost a decade later, I have a level of clarity that was difficult if not impossible to obtain from my spot in the jungle. After all, once you are lost in the weeds this becomes the only thing you see.
The first thing to take note of is the fact that people purchase things to feel better. What we see in pictures of new material purchases, lavish vacations and weekend adventures are frequently examples of those trying to improve their internal condition with externalities which, I’ve come to learn time and again, never work. Second, it stands to reason that the more you see of someone’s attempt at social media showboating the more they may be trying to create a protective covering of shine and glitter so that their messy and perfectly imperfect insides remain undiscovered. They buy the thing in order to feel better and when that fails, end up doubling down on the resulting dissatisfaction by using the same purchase now glorified in a photograph in an effort to convince us that all is well. If we are apt to believe their frills and then compare how we feel inside to these carefully curated exteriors, then we have mistakenly begun comparing apples and oranges.
Perhaps the right answer here is compassion. After all, poet Miller Williams contends that “you do not know what wars are going on down there where the spirit meets the bone.” Once we stop comparing that which isn’t a fair fight, we need to show our compassion for those who are using modern day methods based upon evolutionary instincts to protect, care for, and soothe themselves. In their world, their insides must never be not OK. And, since they aren’t always OK—just like mine, yours, and everyone else’s—they desperately seek solutions which offer up some relief. We need to understand that not only are each of us doing the best that we can with the knowledge we have, but we also share many of the same worries and uncertainties about ourselves, this fragile planet we call home, and those who are closest to our heart. Our insides, which we seldom share and compare, have far more in common than we realize. Our outsides, on the other hand, are simply the masks we choose to wear—and some contain more glitter and glam than others.