Everybody is unique. Compare not yourself with anybody else lest you spoil God’s curriculum. – Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer
A story I read long ago goes like this:
A water-bearer in India (or in China in other versions of the story) had two clay watering pots that he tied on either end of a pole, which he carried on his shoulders. Every day, the water-bearer would walk to the stream, fill up his two pots, and carry the water back to his master’s house. Along the way, the cracked water pot would leak half of its load from the crack in its side, resulting in the water-bearer only delivering one full pot and a half of water to his master.
This went on for a couple of years. Of course, the perfect water pot was proud of its accomplishments, while the cracked water pot grew more and more miserable. Finally, it said to the water-bearer: “I would like to apologize to you. I’m so ashamed of myself. Because of my flaw, you haven’t been able to get the full value out of your hard work. Please, just throw me away.”
The water-bearer, feeling sorry for the cracked pot, replied: “The next time we fetch water from the stream and walk back to the master’s house, I want you to notice all the flowers along the way.”
The cracked pot did as he said, and only then noticed the lush, beautiful flowers growing beside the road. Then the water-bearer said: “Did you notice that the flowers grew only on your side of the road? You see, I’ve long known of the crack in your side. I took advantage of it, and planted flower seeds along your side of the road, and for two years, you’ve been watering these flowers. Now, because of you, I have flowers I can pick and decorate my master’s table with.”
It is ridiculously easy to compare ourselves with others. We make it easy. If we have siblings, comparisons are made between one sister and the other, one brother and another. In school, we enter a system that clearly shows how much smarter one is than the other by so many points. In our social lives, we make it easy to compare how many friends we have, or how many cool gadgets and fashionable clothes we own, or how many members of the opposite sex we are attracting to us.
Then we go to work, and it becomes a contest of who earns the higher salary, who works for the more glamorous company, who has the fancier house and the best car and the most number of vacations in Paris or the Bahamas or wherever. And if we ever try to stop comparing ourselves, we flounder about, lost and disoriented, because if we aren’t “more than X” or “less than Y” or “doing better” or “doing worse” than Z, then—then who are we? What are we?
We’re all cracked pots, is what we are. We all have our own flaws. Life is not a supermarket where we’re all tagged and priced according to someone’s estimation of our worth, where we’re all supposed to be the same as everyone else and if we’re not, we’re labeled “defective” and disposed of. What a perfectly cold, perfectly barren story to tell about ourselves.
I think we’re more like…pieces in a jigsaw puzzle. A huge, magnificent, complex, multi-dimensional jigsaw puzzle. We all have our unique shapes and color patterns, and sometimes we can’t seem to make sense of ourselves or of others. But if we view the jigsaw from a higher perspective, we see the pattern emerging, and it’s a glorious picture indeed. We’re a small part of that puzzle, but without us, the jigsaw would be incomplete.
We all have our place. We all have our gifts. We all have our roles to play. And we are all unique, vital, irreplaceable pieces of the Universe.
Life isn’t a numbers game. It’s about making flowers grow along our little patch of road.