Compare or Contrast



Tea or coffee? Paper or plastic?  Regular or Super size?   We are inundated with choices every day whether we realize it or not.  Some require little to no thought, while others cause us great consternation. When faced with making a decision of importance, we often will weigh one side against another.  Viewing the pros and cons is one way to label this process, and another is to compare and contrast ideas or choices.  I asked my students to write a compare/contrast essay last week and decided that perhaps I, too, should write one.

The first dimension of this process is the comparison.  Comparisons are a part of everyday life.  Our children compare their clothing with that of their friends.  Athletes compare stats and abilities.  Businessmen compare bank accounts.  We are all searching for people “like us.”  There is an inherent need to be a part of a larger whole.  Even those who would consider themselves to be on the fringes of society have a relationship, a connection, with others who are breaking the status quo.

The idea of comparison can be both negative and positive.  In the negative sense, people compare in order to disassociate with certain groups.  They may even compare simply to boost their own self esteem.  However, comparing can also be a positive trait.  By comparing, people can be challenged to succeed.  A difficult situation may pose a stumbling block to one, but when that same situation is viewed through the lens of another, a new solution presents itself.

In contrast, pun intended, the second dimension of this analysis is contrasting one idea with another.  What makes one choice different from another?  Two roads diverged in a yellow wood.  There was a difference between them and a choice to make.  Sometimes those differences can lead to further learning.  At other times it may cause us to turn back.  It all depends on the individual.

Again, there are both negative and positive traits to consider.  Many times people fear differences.  Racism stems from this fear.  If someone looks or sounds differently, then walls are thrown up.  “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught” is a song from South Pacific by Rogers and Hammerstein.  The lyrics are powerfully written and show just how negative contrasting people can be.

You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year,
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!

Rogers and Hammerstein

The positive side of contrasting ideas, thoughts and decisions is that there is room for growth.  Friedrich Nietzsche said it best with, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” Now I’m probably taking a bit of license with this quote, but if we allow ourselves to explore ideas that are different, if we contemplate choices that are unfamiliar and possibly uncomfortable, we will no doubt find that we have evolved in some way.  And that is far better than to have suffered from intellectual and emotional atrophy.

While it is easy to sit and contemplate the comings and goings of human beings, it is far more difficult to live this life.  Much more time needs to be spent on comparing and contrasting the decisions that bombard us on a daily basis.  We have choices to make that will either lead us to a higher plane or leave us to fester where we are most comfortable.  The choice is entirely up to us.  Or as Hamlet said, “To be or not to be:  that is the question.”


Follow Your Heart



Follow your heart is a familiar phrase, but exactly what does it mean or imply? On the surface it seems mundane or just a familiar way to express the pursuit of one’s dreams. We hear such statements at college graduations or when advice is sought from loving and concerned family members to children or grand-children. We hear it when advice is sought in dating or marriage, and what college to attend or career to pursue. But the question is just what does this organ, our heart, have to do with our thoughts or decisions anyway? After all, we all know that simple phrases such as “follow your heart” are simply ways to acknowledge that our decisions that we deem as good are good. We also imply that all choices are completely our own and no one has a right to impede on them. There is also the philosophy that one person’s choices are equal to everyone else’s and are to be respected as much. But let’s slow down a bit. This last sentence changes the implication of the statement ‘follow your heart”.

Let’s look first at what it means to follow your heart.
First let me state the obvious. It is not speaking about the organ but about the core or spirit of man; the inner man is to be trusted. We teach our children. We love our children. We embrace our children, thus how can someone whom we love with such affection be anything but pure at heart. No parent ever dreams that their son or daughter would be a murderer. Nor would anyone we’ve loved steal from us or embezzle thousands, even millions, from innocent hard working families. The idea is that even politicians, at their heart, truly mean good. No school teacher would genuinely determine to do harm or be vindictive toward a student. They all at their heart want the best for others. Hospitals and doctors would never recommend unnecessary procedures or surgeries for their own gain, after all, we like, we trust our doctors because at their heart, they all want the best for us.

Now let’s look at man’s heart itself.
Many would say that with such a sarcastic, untrusting view I must live a horribly miserable life or that I don’t trust anyone. And I would say quite the opposite. When I hear the phrase trust or follow your heart, I don’t consider others first; I look at my own heart and say it is deceived. I have come to believe that there is no good in me, and I am untrustworthy for I am a man that came from men who have proven from generation to generation that the scripture is true.
Jeremiah17:9 states, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” Then in Jeremiah 17:5 it reads, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength, and whose heart turns away from the Lord.’”

Finally we need to ask, “What or who is to be trusted?”
If words matter and truth is a reality, then we must be forced to change the statement “Follow Your Heart” to something that will not lead us astray. Romans 3:10-12 shows us that man is not trustworthy. “As it is written, ‘There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one.’” So man’s only hope is not to follow his own heart, but to follow the heart of the One who proved He is trustworthy. Let’s conclude this thought with Proverbs 3:5-8, and may we consider how we inspire others.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; Fear the Lord and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your body and refreshment to your bones.” Proverbs 3:5-8

Pastor John R. Smith