Revisiting: The Joy of Contrast (or Quite Possibly the Greatest Thing I Ever Said)

This post was originally published on August 18, 2013.

“Comparison is the thief of joy.” – Theodore Roosevelt

Bottom line: Comparing myself to others is pointless. Any time I start a little tally going on how I’m doing as compared to someone else, it’s time to take a breath and a step back. We all do it (in fact, our culture encourages it), but comparison is a habit worth breaking. Leo Babauta in his ZenHabits blog has written a bunch of posts about comparison (and they’re all good), but I love this one for pointing out how absurd it is to compare ourselves to others. There are too many variables, too many unknowns, too many incomparables. Comparison just doesn’t make sense.

And yet, it’s so tempting, to either knock myself down (“she’s my age and way more fit than I am”) or make myself superior (“I would never talk to my child like that.”) as compared to someone else. It’s so easy to do, but our absolute uniqueness makes it completely meaningless. As they say in AA, don’t compare your inside with somebody else’s outside.

Contrasting, on the other hand, can be a delicious practice of wonder and appreciation. Last year, my husband and I visited his parents in Arizona. One afternoon, we went to a skydiving center to watch people jump out of airplanes. It was strangely mesmerizing. Dozens of us sat on the grass craning our necks skyward and watched tiny colored dots fly out of the plane, cruise around for a while, and then pop their parachutes and float gracefully to earth on a rainbow of fabric. After watching several plane-loads descend like colorful thistle down, I said to everyone and no one in particular, “People are amazing.” A stranger, a woman sitting near me said, “You could learn to sky dive, and then you’d be amazing, too.”

And without missing a beat, I looked at her, smiled and said one of the greatest things I’ve ever said, “Oh, I am amazing…only in a completely different way.”

Few words have ever felt so good to say. I could easily have gone with, “Oh no, I could never do that” or “Yeah, you’re right, I should try it” or something that in one way or another compared me to the skydivers. Instead, I loved appreciating them for what they were doing and recognizing that their achievements in no way diminish my own, totally different, coolness. This is contrast, and contrast is delicious.

One of my favorite things in Nia is the Joy of Contrast. In my very first class, after years of aerobics and traditional dance classes in which the whole class basically has the same energy and the same feel, I loved the feeling of contrasts in Nia. I loved feeling tight then loose, linear then circular, big then teeny-tiny. My body devoured the sensations and the challenge of completely shifting from one to the other. My mind focused intently on crisp shifts between those sensations.  And my spirit loved the expansive possibilities that were inherent in every contrast…even the possibility of blending and integrating them.

Strong isn’t better than flexible. Mobile isn’t better than agile. Fast isn’t better than slow. Skydiving isn’t better than Nia dancing.  The Joy of Contrast is appreciating the amazingness of it all.

The next time you find yourself comparing yourself to someone else, experiment with appreciating the contrasts instead. Acknowledge that you and the other person are both amazing…just in different ways. Then move on to be your amazing self without keeping score. Whether you jump out of airplanes or knit baby blankets, you are amazing. Just being yourself is amazing. Be that amazing and let everybody else be their amazing. That’s the Joy of Contrast!

  1. Marion Robbins said:

    Dear AMAZING friend, this made me salivate for Nia even more…… Soooo much love! Marion

  2. Haha! YES, it’s one of the delicious parts of the practice. So glad to hear from you. Thank you, as ever, for reading and saying hello. ❤

  3. Thank you, Susan. This subject has been on my mind this week, envy creeping in as I compared myself to published writers and their professional accomplishments at the VA Festival of the Book. I discussed with a friend and found myself saying, “I have taken a different path”, feeling love and gratitude for my path. Dance on, Sister!

    • YES. You are amazing in a totally different way. And I get the slippery comparison slope. Contrast is beautiful. ❤

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