When I was a kid we would play Mario Kart (Super Mario Kart was released in 1992). Mario kart is a video game where you race other players, there are different characters, different tracks, and fun little tricks like dropping banana peels to trip up the other racers. I have a lot of fond memories of playing the game with my brothers, especially in the battle mode where you try to knock off those three balls that were spinning around the other player. Oftentimes I would play it alone, when nobody was around, or when I wanted to hone my skills so that I could beat my brothers. When you are playing the game alone you have a few options, you could race the computer, you could race all alone, or you could race yourself. How you would race yourself was you would first complete one race all by yourself, then you would race it again, except this time there was a shadow version of yourself from the last race racing with you. This was very amusing because every time you did better the shadow version would become your best time, so that every race you could get a little bit better, it really was a great idea, and a lot of fun.
Now I haven’t played Mario Kart in probably 20 years, but one day as I was lecturing my daughter, and she was arguing with me, it came back to me. If you have kids you will have heard the argument my daughter was making, and if you don’t have kids you need to start working on having some (that I will have to talk about in another blog post). So the argument is simple, there are many variations of it, but the most common is, “Well, you did it Dad.” Basically, the argument is addressing where exactly the bar for our behavior should be. What my child was trying to say was, why should the bar be higher for me than it was for you? The general response to this is, “Well if I jumped off a cliff would you?” or some such thing trying to say that just because one person does something stupid doesn’t mean that you should do it. Now this is an okay way to respond, but the problem is that generally both parties agree that jumping off a cliff is bad, but they do not agree on the goodness of the current action that is the cause of the debate in the first place. Generally, the child thinks it’s okay and the parent doesn’t. Now my general go to response to this argument was (and sometimes I still use it) that the bar should not be the parent, but it should be Jesus; that the parent is a flawed person, and that we shouldn’t try to match the behavior of a flawed person, but we should match the behavior of a perfect person, Jesus. This is also a good response, but it too has flaws, the flaws being that the child is often discouraged, knowing that they can never live up to such a high standard. So in the midst of one of these debates is when Mario Kart came to me.
So it goes like this: Imagine that your life is like a very long course of Mario Kart. There are other racers on the course, there are obstacles, there are twists and turns. The track sometimes has pits and water or ice, sometimes your cart breaks down, or is difficult to control. There are those big stone things that try to crush you, sometimes you only get the stupid coins when you really need the red shell. You get the idea. Once I get them to understand the concept, I tell them about the shadow racer thing. So there will be other racers that are better than you, others that are slower, maybe one will be perfect (Jesus), but you really aren’t racing against them. You are racing against the shadow version of yourself doing the best possible time.
Each one of us has unique lives, unique circumstances. It oftentimes does not make sense to compare ourselves to others, but to the best possible version of ourselves. Our ancestors understood this concept, the ancients understood it, it is time that we start to understand it, and to teach our children.