is an important factor that causes us to be obsessed
with our limitations: the tendency to compare
ourselves with others. There is probably no
other habit that chips away at our self-confidence
so effectively as the habit of scanning the people
around us to see how we compare. It is as if
we have a radar dish on our foreheads, constantly
searching to see if someone else is quicker, tanner,
or brighter. And when we find that at times
someone is, we are devastated.
folly of basing our self-estimate on comparisons is
that it puts us on a roller-coaster. Perhaps
we are feeling fairly good about our appearance one
day, and we find ourselves in the company of someone
with stunningly good looks. Suddenly we feel
ugly and want to disappear. Or perhaps we know
we have above-average intelligence, but we happen to
be at lunch with people who are even smarter.
Then every word that comes out of our mouths sounds
like intellectual sludge.
of us grew up with older brothers and sisters who we
desperately wanted to emulate, but of course we were
doomed from the start. For no matter how hard
we tried to catch up, we found ourselves smaller,
clumsier, and dumber than they were. And when
they ridiculed us--as most older siblings do--we
learned to criticize ourselves. In many cases
this became a life-long habit.
God did not make us to be like our siblings or
anyone else. We are absolutely unique.
We are the product of 23 chromosomes from our
mothers and 23 chromosomes from our fathers, and
geneticists say that the odds of our parents having
another child like us are one in 10 to the
two-billionth power. The combination of
attributes that constitutes us will never be
duplicated. If this is true, and if it is true
that we are created by God--an original by a master
artist--it makes the exploration and development of
that uniqueness an item of the highest priority.
core value is not diminished when we happen to be
with people who are better musicians or more famous
or wealthier. Nor is it heightened when we
find ourselves with people who are less
accomplished. The Bible teaches us that we
have worth quite apart from the existence of any
other person. We have worth because we are
God's unique creation.
Hasidic rabbi, Zuscha, was asked on his deathbed
what he thought the kingdom of God would be
like. He replied, "I don't know.
But one thing I do know. When I get there I am
not going to be asked, 'Why weren't you Moses?
Why weren't you David?' I am only going to be
asked, 'Why weren't you Zuscha? Why weren't
you fully you?'"
of years ago, the Greek philosopher Aristotle
suggested that each human being is bred with a
unique set of potentials that yearn to be fulfilled
as surely as the acorn yearns to become the oak
within it. Sidney Poitier's parents probably
never heard of Aristotle's notion, but they knew its
truth in their bones and they taught their children
a self-reliance that refused to be defeated because
they had some limitations.
was a product of a colonial system," says
Poitier, "that was very damaging to the psyche
of non-white people. The darker you were, the
less opportunities were presented to you. . . . My
parents were terribly, terribly poor, and after a
while the psychology of poverty begins to mess with
your head. As a result, I cultivated a fierce
pride in myself, something that was hammered into me
by my parents Evelyn and Reggie--mostly by
Evelyn. She never apologized for the fact that
she had to make my pants out of flour sacks. I
used to have 'Imperial Flour' written across my
rear. She always used to say, 'If it's clean,
that's the important thing.' So from that
woman--and probably for that woman--I always wanted
to be extraordinary."
Loy McGinnis (1933-2005) was a best-selling
author, family therapist, business consultant,
and popular speaker. After a twenty-year
career as a minister, he became a counselor
and co-founded the Valley Counseling Center
in Glendale, California. In the 1970's
he began researching friendship and authored
The Friendship Factor. He authored more
than fifty articles and several more books.