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The Table Video

James Wilhoit

Be Good to Yourself: Resisting Social Comparison [From the Table #1]

Scripture Press Chair of Christian Formation and Ministry, Wheaton College
September 26, 2014

“Social comparison is like a kind of battery acid on the soul, leaving one unable to appropriate the gospel.” Wheaton College professor of Christian Education Jim Wilhoit coaches us through principles and practices that aid us in resisting the temptation to condemn ourselves through destructive patterns of social comparison. This is the first installment of “From the Table” featuring weekly wisdom that comes straight from discussion among scholars working at Biola’s Center for Christian Thought.


We probably, at times, find ourselves saying things to ourself by way of criticism or scolding that we would never say to a friend. So one of the findings that we see in contemporary psychology is that social comparison really is like a kind of battery acid on the soul. It leaves one, in a sense, where they can’t really appropriate the Gospel. They either have one, in social comparison, they find that they are too good for the Gospel or most often, they find that they are really so full of shame they can’t imagine the Gospel is big enough to touch them. Implicit in the two greatest commands of love God and love neighbor is this love neighbor as yourself. And so, there is this sense that we are to be caring for ourself. You look at how the Bible depicts the self-talk. Why are you downcast, oh my soul? The self-talk in scripture is not condoning, but it isn’t harsh. It can call one to live better. But it isn’t harsh and judgmental. So one asks, “Well what are the things “that reduce social comparison?” And one is a practice of loving, present attention, often called mindfulness, where you begin to learn to step back from the mental chatter, the thoughts in your head where you’re talking to yourself, thereby comparing yourself to others, and just say, “Just be present to this person, “to this project.” Learn to step away from those thoughts.

Another practice that has a deep Christian tradition is expressing self-compassion, so learning to speak to you as a good friend would who could give loving words of challenge and comfort when you’re finding yourself compared to other people. [soothing piano music] If you’re in a difficult situation, you have found yourself overwhelmed by a project that you don’t know that you’re able to pull off by the deadline, you say to yourself, “This is hard.” Just as you would want a friend to come along and not tell you how to fix it, you’d want a friend to come along and say, “Oh Jim, this is hard. “This is really hard to be under this kind of pressure.” [upbeat band music] Just as we would want a friend to do that in an embodied way, so that if we got a phone call, that would be good. What we can hear in a phone call was a tone of voice. What we’d really like to do is see their presence. They might touch us with a hug. But their tone of voice, the way they look at us, conveys their deep respect. So we also may find that we just put our hand over our heart, and we say, “Oh Jim, this is a hard situation.” And when we do that, we bring into place our mammalian caregiving system that we’re just wired to sort of relax and respond when we receive an echo of the care that we had gotten from our parents. [cheerful band music] We end up saying to ourselves, “This isn’t unique.” We remind ourselves.

This struggle to get this project done on budget and on time, this is part of the difficulties of work. And it’s something people all around the city are experiencing today. And that’s important because we often catastrophize and give the sense that we are utterly unique. And when we realize this is part of the common, human experience, it makes it easier. Hi I’m Jim Wilhoit. I’m a Professor of Christian Education at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois.