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Do you think you’re better than me? Do you make more money? Are you richer? Are you happier? Are you smarter? Are you taller? Are you thinner? Are you stronger? Can you beat me up? Can you have me fired? Can you banish me? Can you kill me and eat my liver?

Taller, stronger, richer, cooler, more talented, more handsome, more famous, more SuperBowl rings, nicer…but Joe Montana isn’t as good at writing science fiction as me…as far as you know.

Do you think I’m better than you?

This matters. Not how we compare objectively but how we think about comparisons.

As I have said before, human psychology was designed by a toddler and a caveman working in the dark using a sledgehammer, a knitting needle and wad of chewing gum.

For most of human history (the first 300,000 years at least) our main worry was being killed and eaten (not necessarily in that order) closely followed by being kicked out of the tribe and then being killed and eaten after starving. All our modern anxieties devolve to these two fears in the dark recesses of our minds (or, to put it more scientifically, in our amygdala).

We overreact to non-existential threats (like people who disagree with us on facebook) because when our ancestors were evolving there were no non-existential threats. That which didn’t kill us didn’t make us stronger, it just waited until the sun went down and tried again. All of our ancestors had one thing in common. They survived long enough to have kids.

That’s why we pay attention to bad news and ignore the good. Why pay attention to good news? It’s not going to kill us?

Humans survived by working together. A group of humans could fight off a cave bear or a sabre-toothed cat. Humans working together got so good at Mammoth hunting that we killed them all off before we even had iron weapons. On the other hand, an individual human could be easily killed by just about anything with sharp teeth or a bad attitude.

That’s why it’s so important, from the amygdala’s point of view, that we fit in. Part of fitting in is being aware of our place in the social hierarchy. That’s why we pay attention to how we compare to others and why coming up short causes such anxiety and anguish.

The caveman inside us is afraid of getting ostracized.

If you can identify when anxiety and anguish is caused by comparisons, then you can let it go. There is no reason to be jealous of anyone else or to be threatened by someone else’s success. All that stress is not helpful and it’s not good for you.

This is an old problem but social media has amplified it. Depression is often caused by social media addiction precisely because of this kind of stress.

A wise old 12 step saying is “don’t compare your insides to another’s outsides.” A modern equivalent might be “don’t compare your humble assessment of your life to another’s humble brag on facebook.”

Keep up the good work.

Three Things I Learned From My Cousin Beyoncé This Weekend

Three Things I Learned From My Cousin Beyoncé This Weekend


My wife and I watched Homecoming on Netflix this weekend. For those of you who live on the other side of the world or are reading this a thousand years in the future, Homecoming is a documentary that Beyoncé made about her shows at Coachella last year.

Here are three things I learned.

  1. Teamwork is essential. No one, even Beyoncé, can accomplish anything worth doing alone. Grab your friends and family. Grab your tribe. Ask for help. Demand support. Dance together. Work together. Play together. Be together, together. It’s better than the alternative.
  2. Hard work is essential. Nothing worth doing is easy. That doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. Hard work can be enjoyable but it’s hard.
  3. Self-care is essential. If you want to do something amazing you have to take care of yourself as you work hard with your team.

Another big impression is that Beyoncé is incredibly gifted and she works harder than everyone else. She is a total badass.

“Joseph Broussard dit Beausoleil in Acadia”. Oils on canvas, 30″ by 42″, 2009. An original artwork depicting the revolutionary Acadian leader in Canada on the eve of his life long struggle for the Acadian people which ultimately lead him to southern Louisiana as the leader of the first group of Acadians to that area.

By the way, Beyonce is part Acadian. Her mother is descended from Acadian and Cajun leader Joseph Broussard (1702-1765). His wife was a Thibideau so I know I’m related to Beyoncé by marriage at the very least. My brother assures me that there’s probably a more direct connection. There were less than 10,000 people on Acadia when Broussard was born and the first Sylvain arrived a few generations before so it’s likely that Bey and me are cousins.

Let’s just say we are and move on. I mean, I can see the resemblance.

(I hope that when I’m in my late 30s (and have delivered twins via C-section less than a year before) I can look as good as Beyonce does after dancing and singing non-stop for two hours.)

PS. I have to admit that as an older white guy I have no idea what she’s singing about most of the time. I don’t understand the meaning of the lyrics. Like when she says “I took the top off the Maybach, bitch,” I don’t have any idea what that means. I know that the Maybach is an expensive car but that doesn’t make anything clearer. I don’t think I need to understand but I feel like I need to admit that.

PSS. The contrast between B’s strong, implicit message (of female, African-American and just plain human empowerment) and some of her regressive and aggressive lyrics and presentation is confusing. Does it strike anyone else as troubling or odd? I don’t see anyone talking about that and I certainly don’t feel like I’m in any position to do it. Let me know if anyone has examined this because I’d like to read about it.