I heard a quote recently that has stuck with me although I am unsure who to attribute it to. Like many people on the internet I could just throw it up and claim it was said by Mark Twain, Thomas Jefferson, or Abraham Lincoln. “Comparison is the seed of envy”. I’m sure someone smarter than me will pinpoint its origin, suffice to say I did not come up with it.
Today’s social media filled world forces us to constantly stand at the doorway of comparison prepared to enter the dark caverns of envy. Leaving us left to our own devices we may compare ourselves to every single person we know multiple times a day. A recent study done by the psychology department at the University of Pennsylvania concluded that limiting social media leads to a decrease in loneliness and depression. The study specifically points to the constant comparison we engage in on instagram as one of the causes of increased depression and loneliness due to the use of social media.
Now I love instagram and I am not claiming that we need to swear it off completely. I am all for limiting use of social media, and fortunately the iphone allows us to monitor our screen time very easily now. A little exercise I like to engage in though is what I call Abraham Lincoln’s Instagram.
Let us imagine for a moment that back in the day Abraham Lincoln had an instagram or twitter account. You would probably see a status update or a photo marking the occasion of the following events:
1832– Lincoln is chosen by the members of the Illinois Militia to be their company Captain.
1833– Lincoln is appointed Postmaster of New Salem, Illinois, and appointed to be Deputy Surveyor of Sangamon County.
1834– Lincoln is Elected to the Illinois State Legislature.
1836– Lincoln is reelected to the state Legislature and is granted a license to practice law in Illinois.
1839– Lincoln is nominated for House Speaker by the Whig Party.
Re-elected to Illinois House (running first in his district, Served as Whig floor leader.
1842– Lincoln is admitted to practice law in the U.S. District Court.
1844– Lincoln opens a private Law practice of his own.
1846– Lincoln is elected to congress.
1849– Lincoln is given the opportunity to practice law in the U.S. Supreme Court. He was offered (but declined the opportunity to serve as secretary and later governor of the Oregon Territory.)
1854– Lincoln is elected to the Illinois State Legislature but denies because he is running for a seat in the U.S. Senate.
1860– Lincoln is elected to the office of the President of the United States.
An extremely impressive list of accomplishments. That list even removes a lot of the things that are listed on all of his greatest successes. Watching this series of events unfold from behind the lens of our own social media profiles would make many of us feel as though we were massive failures in comparison. Lincoln too was a massive failure at many things. Below are all the events Lincoln would not have tweeted about or posted to his instagram.
1816– Lincoln and his family do not possess the money to establish clear title to their farm land in Kentucky. Which forces them to leave the land behind and move to Illinois.
1818– Lincoln’s Mother dies of milk sickness when he is just 9 years old.
1831– Lincoln leaves home for a job at a general store with a man named Denton Offutt. Offutt promised to make Lincoln the manager of the store but over extended his budget and had to close up shop. Leaving Lincoln unemployed.
1832– Lincoln ran for State Legislature and lost.
1833– Lincoln takes out a loan to purchase a General Store with his parnter William F. Berry. The store does not fair well against more established competition and they have to close. Lincoln spends several years paying off his debt.
1835– Lincoln’s sweetheart Ann Rutledge dies.
1838– Lincoln is defeated in his attempt to become Speaker of the State Legislature.
1843– Lincoln seeks a nomination from the Whig Party to run for Congress and is rejected.
1854– Lincoln seeks a seat as a U.S. Senator for Illinois. He is unable to obtain the majority vote required.
1856– Lincoln fails to obtain the nomination for Vice President of the United States. Of note: he did not seek this nomination, he was considered as a potential candidate by the Whig party and could only obtain 100 votes of the require 363.
If you look at his successes and failures in sequential order it is almost as though each major accomplishment is followed by a failure. We can make the assumption that if Lincoln were alive today, we probably would only hear about the success list through his Instagram or Twitter. Granted, Lincoln’s humility was extremely noteworthy and it is possible Ole Honest Abe would have shared his failures too. Regardless, it demonstrates the point that many times in life we only see one side of a person’s story. It is more likely than not that they are facing the same trials and tribulations that you and I both are. The only difference we can make is the way in which we respond to setbacks.
I argue that one of the first ways to make a more positive response to setbacks is to limit comparison of ourselves to the one-sided stories displayed by the rest of world on social media. We have a hard enough time attempting to pick ourselves back up by our boot straps after adversity hits. Comparing ourselves to the rest of the world only amplifies those difficulties. Lincoln responded to the countless setbacks life threw at him with malice toward none. A lesson in resilience and perseverance for us all.
Big thanks to Snopes for ensuring that my post was based on fact-checked information and not “fake-news”.
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