Warning: This article includes a touch of ancient Roman incest and two non-censored uses of the word d*cks (not dacks, decks, docks or ducks....FYI).
Ultimately, it's a little essay about living free from comparison.
The same comparison that stops you in your tracks and prevents you from showing up online, creating cool stuff or otherwise taking action.
You may or may not know (ok, you likely know) that one of my favourite podcasts is History is Sexy.
I like it so much I've been reading one of the host's (Dr Emma Southon’s) book on Agrippina and am definitely going to break my book ban (again) and pick up her newest book, A Fatal Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, soon.
The reason I am so into Dr Emma's approach is that she doesn't try to ascribe big grand plans to historical figures when maybe there wasn't one.
It's easy to look back, compile all the facts and say 'ah, this is exactly what they intended to do. How clever and cunning of them'.
When really, if we were plopped down in the same situation ourselves, we'd make it up as we go along, make a few mistakes, let emotions get in the way, and have some luck. Even if it turned out exactly the same, and we'd never look back and think 'Ah, how clever and cunning I am'.
Take her fave gal Agrippina for a second. If you don't know her, knowing that she's Caligula's sister and Nero's mum might give you some picture of the time and place.
There is a moment in Agrippina's life when she does something that seems a bit odd in 2020.
She marries her uncle, Claudius.
He also happens to be the Emperor.
So we look back and we ascribe different stories to rationalise the move,
- She was a weak and feeble woman (to borrow a phrase from Elizabeth I) and had no agency, but had a good name. She was married off to her uncle for his power and glory.
- She was a saucy seductress and only wanted power. She went after her uncle with great ferocity to get to the top. Because, as we all know, women with power are morally corrupt and a bit weird and shouldn’t be trusted. You can imagine which story is more popular.
- They both sat down and decided it was the best was to consolidate family power. We’re talking about a culture who really valued blood. Your family line was more important than almost anything else. This one makes so much logical sense it's positively dull.
Either way, how cunning and clever. Claudius, nabbing a young bride to rule by his side. Agrippina, seducing her uncle. Both of them, cleverly solidifying their power.
Now, we’re talking about a period in history from which very little record survives. Women weren’t mentioned in any writing unless in relationship with a man. They could have been dancing naked through the streets and they’d still not get a mention, unless they tripped over a dick on their way. Although this is actually likely, because Roman's decorated everything with dicks. But that's not the point.
The point is, any story we’re telling about Agrippina is made up.
And still no one is saying the other thing. The unsaid thing. Like, maybe her uncle thought she was hot and wanted to marry her? Or vice versa? Or *gasp* both!
(I’d like to be clear, she’s an adult with a fair bit of reputation and power herself at this time, otherwise I’d be a bit less cavalier).
It’s not palatable to modern sensibilities, or genetically ideal, but it does make the point:
We tend to believe that everyone else is far more logical and rational than we are.
Even when we don't agree with what they've done. And particularly when watching from the outside looking in, or in retrospect.
When we look back, we remove emotional, sometimes irrational, ‘gut-feel’ decision making from the story. We assume everyone had a grand plan.
It's why I don't hold sway with massive conspiracy theories. Do we really think that other humans out there are that much smarter and organised than us?
Maybe I'm naive. It could be on the spectrum of seeing the best in people.
But let's look at the evidence. When I talk to friends, family, mentors, listen to people, read books etcetera, there is usually a vibe that, a lot of the time, we all feel like we’re just making it up as we go along.
So why do we take all this evidence and assume something to the contrary?
- They're much more successful than me
- They must be raking in the cash
- Their brand voice is spot on, I bet they have an amazing strategy behind it
- They have such great content, it's all so planned and intentional
- Imagine the processes they have in their business, so good!
- They really know what they’re doing
I’ve had people say a few of these things about me. And NOPE.
In the end, this email is just a lot of words to say 'comparison is the thief of joy'. But it's true.
When we make others out to be more rational, logical and organised we’re comparing.
And in that comparison, we never come out on top.
But I think you’ll find, in reality, other people aren’t more clever and cunning than you. They’re just making it up too.
And I think that’s empowering.
It gives us a lot more freedom to try new things, go with out gut and take the luck that comes our way, without feeling like we don't measure up.