“Imperfections are not inadequacies; they are reminders that we’re all in this together.”- Brené Brown.
A remarkable scene unfolded between two of my toddler grandchildren.
One had "an accident." As I am changing her diaper on the floor, the other toddler, her cousin, leans over, and looks into the face of the one being changed. Her face shows warmth and concern.
“Don’t worry, me do dat sometimes too.”
What is so extraordinary about that? What made this admission even odder was that this one claiming to "do dat sometimes too" had been potty-trained quite some time ago.
Why does the toddler use this method to comfort and connect with her cousin? How does she sense this might be an embarrassing situation for the one who "had an accident"?
What would we gain as human beings if more of us could learn this incredibly smooth, socially intelligent move which not only boosts relationships, but counter-intuitively, our own happiness?
One of the issues that makes human beings unhappy is frequent social comparison. Social evolutionary biologists tell us we are hard-wired to do this. In our more ancient, small groups, our status mattered immensely. Those with higher status had more access to mates and resources.
We needed to prove to our worth or we might find that the group had moved on without us. That would have been a death sentence in an environment where a single human could easily be picked off by prey.
Unfortunately, some of the things our brain has been hard-wired to do because it was adaptive eons ago is not good for us as human beings today. That social comparison brain feature causes us to relentlessly self-evaluate, judge ourselves.
In our contemporary world, we are not just judging ourselves against a handful of others, but an immense world. We look on social media, we see the rich, the famous, the glamorous, the powerful, the fast, the brilliant, the enlightened all over the globe – a bunch of folks considerably better than we are in most ways. How can we compete with that? We get depressed and anxious.
Even worse, trying to be the best at anything is ephemeral. We are only as good as the last thing we have won. And we are constantly trying to climb to a higher achievement. We are never satisfied. This situation is bad enough for living the good life.
This attention to competing - to comparing our achievements, our skills, and our traits sets us up for an even worse situation. According to researchers, it draws us away from what is much more likely to make us happy in the long run AND possibly even contribute to our success.
Social comparison draws us away from connection, from vulnerability, from compassion, from humility and from authenticity. From journeying with each other as human beings.
This "me do dat too" path, the path of being human, is the much more durable, sustainable, and deeply satisfying path to the good life (than the path of constantly competing...trying to show our worth by owning fancier cars, building bigger houses, or climbing faster up the hill).
On the human path, we find ourselves noticing others’ suffering, understanding how it might feel, and being able to connect with others as fellow human beings.
John and I often say to each other after one of us missteps, “Me do dat sometimes too.” Then we both laugh at our human foibles.
I have come to notice the people in my life who are masters at sitting with me in our common humanity.
Recently, I was trying to get a big load of supplies down a boat dock. Some stuff slipped off due to me not taking the time to organize the load properly. A young man who was on the dock came to the rescue. “Dang me,” I said.
The young man didn't act superior, did not try to give me advice on how to better organize my load in the future. Instead he said, “Oh, that always happens to me.”
I am not sure I believed him, but I liked him immediately. He was not trying to impress me or one-up me. He was connecting with me, being in kinship.
I thanked him. “Hey, we’re just all here on the same journey, right?”
“Yeah. We are.”
We are all human, voyaging on the same human journey. I am wanting that understanding to thoroughly soak in.
How might I stop "danging" myself? Stop comparing myself to the ideal or to others? Be more accepting of myself?
How might I stop judging others and instead say the truth. “I do dat sometimes too?” Be more vulnerable, more humble.
The "me do dat sometimes too" path, the human path, the path of connecting with humility and vulnerability, is a solid path to mental health, happiness, well-being, and good relationships. We can learn it from toddlers.
How might we give work enjoying our common humanity and journey together to The Good Life?
(and if you need some motivation to increase your willingness to be vulnerable, consider revisiting this incredibly popular TED talk by Brene Brown on the "Power of Vulnerability" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCvmsMzlF7o )