"I have to feel better than the other guy for me to feel good. If I don’t feel one-up I feel worse," one gentleman told me the other day.
Many of us are in a constant state of competition with everyone we know of. We feel happy when we have a more prestigious job than the man sitting next to us in the church pew, or when our car has a more expensive price tag than the car in our neighbor’s driveway does. We feel superior when our son attends the Harvard Medical School, and especially so when our so-called friend’s son is a high school dropout with three "honorable" DUIs. Even behind our "Oh! Poor you!" expression of sympathy, is the underlying feeling that we are OK and you are not, and that’s not so bad.
This jealous competition is not limited to neighbors and friends. Sibling rivalry is almost proverbial. Abel and Cain are universal siblings. Many married couples who are expected to lift each other up "in health and in sickness" are victims of pathologic competition. They belittle each other in order to feel superior to the other, or simply to feel good in their own miserable way. Worse still, some of them compete with their husbands/wives to win the love and loyalty of their children.
We like to feel that our religion is the only religion approved by God, and that only we are God's own children. We feel that that the Orthodox Syrian Church of India is the only authentic Church, and that God will chastise the Marthomites and Pentacostals on the day of the Last Judgment. Isn’t that a nice feeling? To stand by watching it with a smile that declares, "See, I told you so!" The orthodox Jew prays every morning ‘ Thank God that I am not born a gentile or a woman’. We thank God that we are not born a Hindu or a Moslem. We thank God that we are born a Syrian Christian of prestigious family heritage, and not one of those converts from the purajathis. And we thank God and praise Him for making the other guy defective and depraved.
Listen to our Lord’s admonition: "But I say to you that …whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, ‘You fool’ shall be liable to the hell of fire." (Matthew 5:22)
In truth, putting down one of your brethren is an indirect criticism of God. You are implying that God did not create this unfortunate fellow right. God did a lousy job!
I once tried to watch my wandering thoughts as I sat quiet for fifteen minutes. Then I started to count the number of thoughts and images in which I felt superior or critical of others. I don’t want to divulge my findings; for fear that you might feel superior to me, which I am sure, will make me feel inferior and miserable! You know what? I can probably observe a fifty-day lent without seriously succumbing to the cravings and pleasures of my body. But staying away from the secret pride of slighting my ‘brother’ for fifty minutes is very hard.
Blessed are those who can win this battle. I have heard a story about a few of our leading Thirumenis sitting together one evening in a famous Seminary, discussing the affairs of the Church. And the deliberations soon degenerated into a barrage of vitriolic comments about a senior bishop of the church, living abroad. The youngest bishop among them quietly sneaked out of that ‘gracious’ gathering, rather inconspicuously. The senior prelates, feeling relieved after the purge of their pent-up hostility, and beginning to feel hungry, as it was past dinner time, got out to look for the missing junior one.
They found him in his room, kneeling down in prayer, with tears rolling down his cheeks. "Oh! What’s the matter?" they asked, somewhat bewildered. "It hurts when you criticized our spiritual father," he said in a sorrowful voice.
That junior bishop was the Saint Parumala Kochu Thirumeni.