Friday, May 13, 2016

Comparing Yourself to Others - Part II

"Thou shall not covet they neighbor's ass..." (10 Commandments)

In my last posting I raised the question of whether income inequality is such a big thing after all, and whether we should determine our prosperity on a personal or national level based on what other people are making or doing.

I talked about this before in another posting.   In the book of Exodus, Moses brings down the ten commandments, and the last one is a doozey.  It is also one of the most misinterpreted commandments, as it has little to do, on the surface, with things like honoring your Mother and Father, not killing or stealing and, well, serious stuff like that:

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's. (Exodus 20:17)

Why would this even be a commandment?   Was it like one of those CNN "list" articles where they needed to round it out to ten things, even if the last one was kind of, well...lame?

Well, frankly, I think it is one of the better commandments, as it actually offers advice for living rather than just a list of things you shouldn't do.   And let's face it, the rest of the list has a whole host of exceptions to the rule.   Thou shall not kill....unless in self-defense, defense of others, or because the person you are killing is a heathen, or someone who broke one of those other rules that the Bible is full of.   For example, Leviticus impels us to kill our children if they talk back to us.    I know many a parent has been tempted, of course.   But it illustrates how weak the "thou shall not kill" proscription is.

But this last commandment doesn't have many exceptions in the Bible.   There is no get-out-of-jail-free card for coveting.   And the reason why is, the only person you are harming when you covet is yourself, and not your neighbor or society in general (although the latter to some extent, if you sit around and act the sad sack all day long).

So what is coveting, anyway?   As I noted in my other post on this issue, I was mystified by this commandment throughout Sunday school until I realized that what they were getting at was that comparing your life to others is a false comparison and one sure to make you depressed and unhappy.   The 10th commandment is all about materialism and how we tend to be unhappy when we think others have better things that us, even when we have great things ourselves.

And go down the list of "stuff" God is talking about here - your neighbor's house for example.   The house with the three-car garage and the granite countertops and the sun nook.   Nice house.  Nicer than the shithole hovel you live in, right?   But your house looks only crappy in comparison.   On a worldwide scale, you live in a palace.   In fact, you probably have a pretty nifty place to live, if you look at it in the abstract and stop comparing it to someone else's crib.

What's the second thing - the wife.   Yea, Donald has a hottie wife, and you wish your wife was a supermodel, too, right?   With big titties and a facelift and a nice "shelf" butt.  Is that what you really want out of life?  Appearances?   Or would you rather have a lifetime of love and living and a Mother to your children?   Is being on Wife #3 better than what you have?   Probably not.

The manservant and maidservant thing is probably outdated today.   Back in the day, you had slaves to do all your shit for you.  Today we have home appliances.   So this comparison is relevant today.   Covet not they neighbor's $3000 stainless-steel refrigerator, nor his front-loading $1500 washing machine.   The old Norge in your kitchen still makes cold, and your GE toploader gets your clothes clean.   Leave it at that - you are a lucky guy.

The last two items seem somewhat irrelevant today, until you realize what they meant to people back then.  Oxen were the 4x4 trucks of their day, and the ass was how you got into town.   So translated into modern speak, the tenth commandment is saying not to covey they neighbor's monster trunk, nor his new Lexus.   Yes, you have an old mini-pickup and a Hyundai.   Maybe not as nice as his junk, but still nice.   Comparing yourself to them will just make you feel miserable.   So just don't do it.

God won't be mad at you if you violate the 10th commandment, but you will be depressed and angry with yourself.  The 10th commandment is just good solid advice not some proscription against eating clams or violating the sanctity of the temple or whatnot.  Finally, some Bible verse that is also good advice.    I mean, we have the pork and shellfish thing kind of fixed now, but thanks Leviticus for the warning anyway.

But what about the flip side of the 10th commandment?   Does it make you feel any better to look at your neighbor's crappy house, ugly wife, shitty appliances, and clapped-out cars and think to yourself, "Gee, I'm doing a lot better than that schmuck!"?    Well, no, it doesn't.   It just leaves you feeling hollow inside, really.   Lording over the misfortunes of others and using that as a means of pumping yourself up is also a recipe for depression and sadness.  Again, the 10th commandment is offering sage advice here, not a proscription against Lord-offending activities. 

This also has a third application, and that is in the sour grapes department.   A lot of people like to run-down even nice or fancy things as being gauche or flawed in some way.   Again, people do this to make themselves feel better about themselves, but it usually just makes them feel worse.  For example, the neighbor down the street builds a fancy house, the envy of the neighborhood.   Neighbors will say, behind their backs, that the house is gaudy and overwrought and not really that well built.   And we all do this to some extent, to convince ourselves that we really don't want the thing we can't have anyway.   Who wants a Ferrarri?  No trunk space in that car, nosiree!

Again, this sort of thinking doesn't make us happier, but down inside, sadder.   And yes, we all do it to some extent, you and me.   Being happy in life is learning to not do this, or at least try to avoid it, or at least realize we are doing it at the time.

When you get right down to it, there will always be someone with nicer shit that yours - or worse.   You will never have the nicest house, the hottest wife, the killer kitchen, or the fanciest cars, no matter what level you spend at, someone will outspend you.

And that brings this entire discussion back to finances.   One big problem in this country is that people outspend each other in an effort to try to compete with with their neighbors - or even strangers.   We spend more on status items and get nothing for it, other than debt.   Maybe this is what the 10th commandment was getting at.

Stop comparing your life to others'.  It is a dead-end.