I was at the Temple University Kornberg School of Dentistry on a recent morning, a beehive of industry and intelligence plopped in the middle of a blighted area where outside the walls are hustlers and addicts and down-and-outers.
I got into the elevator with a young industrious-looking man in powder blue scrubs, one of the many bright dental students buzzing around the halls in similar attire. “Is orthodontics on the second floor?” I asked, just to confirm. “Yes,” he said. Then I asked if he knew whether orthodontics patients were supposed to wait for their appointments in an upstairs waiting room, or whether they should sit downstairs with the throngs in the first-floor general waiting room.
“I’m not sure,” he replied. “We don’t have much interaction with those guys.” “Oh?” I inquired. “They’re better than us,” he answered with a slight chuckle. At that point we arrived at the second floor, the doors parted, and he sprinted away.
So here is what I thought: All this time I have been secretly nursing fantasies of being young and bright and scientifically sharp and six-figure-salary-bound—all this time I have been looking up at a mountain higher than I—this young dental student and his friends have perhaps also been looking up at a mountain higher than they. There is always someone higher than you on the social pecking order, and there is always someone lower than you. You think you will have satisfaction once you get into dental school. And then you find out you are the slouches in the eyes of the specialists on the second floor.
Nope, there will be no peace found in life by comparing ourselves laterally to other people. Paul said it and it’s still true:
“Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding” (2 Corinthians 10:12).
The most peaceful and productive view is upward. When we keep our minds out of other people’s business and choose to focus on being a servant to God in the sphere of our own ministry, we find contentment and an end of rubbernecking to the second floor.