I can find no direct evidence that Theodore Roosevelt ever said that comparison is the thief of joy, but there is in the modern idiom a truthiness to it. If he did say, or more likely write (he penned around 50 books and over 150,000 letters) that, I like to think he was speaking both about class and tax policy and about intrapersonal and social dynamics. He was a man far ahead of his time (and indeed, our own) when it came to understanding how governments could reify structural inequalities. He was also acutely, unusually sensitive, while being a conventional man of his time who generally declined to exposit his more personal emotions. For all his bluster and exterior velocity he was profoundly aware of how envy could poison, from both within and without.
Cy Whitling recently wrote a nice piece over at Newschoolers, about a dynamic all but essential to my cohort of early Millenials; the decline and fall of the internet forum. By his account “Instagram wants to create Internet “friendships” that are built on a toxic foundation of comparison. Sure, it’s possible to use the app in a better way, to make those real connections, but you’re fighting the algorithm to do so.” This is something which is hard to argue, and I count myself lucky to have been born into just the right window, of people who went through high school without cell phones or email, but had the blossuming of online subgroups to be a guide through their 20s, and enough maturity and accumulated personhood by the time the oughts really got rolling to have turning off social as a realistic choice. Opting out of institutionalized envy is a shitty choice when doing so is tired to social isolation; just ask my 14 year old clients about Snapchat and Tiktok.
The importance of curating one’s social landscape and thus, selecting the grounds for daily comparison, is well established in the literature. It is also well established in history, with the number spinners and outright fakers in the history of (for instance) polar “exploration” going from deep within the 18th century right up to the present day. Mr. Teasdale’s essay is worth reading in full, parable of both internal and external deception that it is, as well as a devastating (true) critique precisely because it is thorough and fair and almost pulls no dramatic punches in the process of showing us how to writer such a thing. One has to pity Mr. O’Brady; for if the mere existence of a project that took so much effort, time, and money was only due to suppurating, inherently superannuated, suffocating comparison to those who had gone before, surely no air can be left for even the smallest joy.
A example, in short of how not to live ones life. You don’t even have to tell us about it.