Why is it that when we see a celebrity flaunting their wealth or success, we see it as normal, yet if we see someone we know do so, it is in bad taste. This is the narcissism of small (or minor) differences and is such a fascinating sociological phenomenon. A similar cultural trait can be found in New Zealand and Australia known locally as the tall-poppy syndrome.
Comparison is the thief of joy –– Theodore Roosevelt
If you ask me, the root of this social phenomenon is comparison. With people we know in real life, there is a shared sense of identity by virtue of the fact that you have shared a similar experience. For example, it could be sharing the same school, university, age, interests, geography, among a million other potential things. The thing is that the relationships don’t even have to be strong, even tangential acquaintances can drive this desire to put down people’s success. For example, it could be someone you shared a class with or a colleague you chatted to once at a work function.
The larger the perceived difference between you and the person weaker the effect of the narcissism of small differences. For me, I was never an athlete or I never considered that to be a possibility, and so when I look at professional sportsmen and women, there is not even the slightest feeling of envy, it is all admiration. If, however, there was someone who I went to school or university with and experienced wild success, there is an unconscious feeling of jealousy. As much as I try to beat away those feelings, they do crop up. That is a small reason I have almost ceased using Instagram, for all the good that I get from it like connecting with friends, there is always a price to pay in terms of the comparisons my subconscious minds make.
Something that has worked in rewiring my mind away from comparison is developing a gratitude practice.