Keeping Up with the Jones’

by Michelle Lasley

Michelle Lasley is a mother, wife in Pacific Northwest learning to balance green dreams with budget realities.

December 31, 2012


Generally, when we consider the phrase “Keeping up with the Jones” we consider monetary accomplishments. Do we have the right car? Are we wearing the right clothes? Do we have the right house? And, we compare that to our neighbor. Sometimes “neighbor” is a colleague, an actual neighbor, or a family member. The “Jones” is simply a person with whom we compare ourselves to in order to measure our status and quantify our self-worth.

Okay, but what if we measure ourselves in other ways. Such as presuming to act like a better person or take care of something or someone better than the proverbial Jones? How often does that get discussed? How often to we consider how harmful that level of comparison is?

I have a few thoughts around this subject and it stemmed from a few incidents observed from afar and acted upon by someone close to me. First, I think of this comparing and how detrimental it is to our own psyches. And, then, I consider the ten commandments — thy shall not covet thy neighbor’s things. Again, the latter reinforces the prominent view of “Keeping Up with the Jones'”. We shouldn’t covet their cars, house, finery. But, I really do think there is an underlying element that forces us to look inside and simply not compare – even our actions – to our neighbors.

By compare, I make that loose. In this piece, I am going to be judging the actions of another while condoning how they have judged others. I want this to be recognized up front to highlight the fine line in which I am hoping to initiate a discussion on our proper decorum, how we set examples for each other, and how we can live in a more compassionate world.

So, the incident. Someone close to me has a child who need special attention in order to properly care for him. This individual was caring for her child in a public place. In this place, she witnessed another mother remain engrossed in a minor task, thereby ignoring her own child. This other mother’s child, while the mother’s back was turned, fell, hard on a hard surface whilst completing a task that was not recommended. So, the kiddo was doing something she shouldn’t have been. The mother wasn’t watching the kiddo. The mother was window shopping or browsing for something, focused only on herself and not her child. This person close to me, publicly, chided this mother for her carelessness and blamed the mother  entirely, for the child falling and presumably hurting herself.

Should the mother have been paying closer attention to her child? Probably. But, this individual close to me should not have chided this mother so. She was not the mother. She only saw, from a distance, and only got a fragment of the story. I’ve acted in a protective manner before for my own son, but with his recent behavior at school, I am being served my own slice of humble pie. It doesn’t take long for the tables to turn. I really wanted this individual close to me to go to a place of compassion for the other mother instead of a place of judgement.

This individual has done it a second time, publicly questioning all other parents and how they care for their own children after being given a compliment by a health care professional on the care of her own. That’s great that she’s able to keep her own child healthy and clean – but to question the motives and intent of parents who don’t (seem to) – I find it far-reaching and shallow. I am ashamed of this individual. I cannot believe this individual is close to me and would decry other parents and their presumed inability to take care of their own children without first seeking their stories. This individual is not seeking first to understand, rather seeking first to self-congratulate and then judge.

And, now, she’s pissed at me because I told her so. I told her I was judging her both publicly (wrong on my part… but it was reactionary public to public forum) and privately. And, I tried to tell her why. She’s not open to criticism. She rarely is. She’s not open to hearing for growth. She rarely is. And, all that makes me sad.

This individual used to think much more compassionately and lovingly than she demonstrates now. She used to force me to think of the other, and that’s changed. And, now I worry for her. I am worried that she’ll get her just desserts and it won’t be pretty. Sure, she has to walk her own path, but I’d like to believe that we’re in this together somehow and should be able to support each other along the way. It’s never easy when someone calls us out on our own bullshit, so how do we individually handle it?

Apparently, I don’t handle it well at all. All in an effort to lamely work more compassionately so our children can live in a more compassionate, understanding world, where measuring ourselves against another’s success or failure isn’t even a part of the discussion.


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