People have a desire to compare themselves with others. In many cultures children learn they should win to demonstrate that they are better, stronger and more successful than the others.

Direct comparison might lead to different results from Muhammad Ali’s famous ”I am the greatest” via ”The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” Actually, Ali stated even more: ”I’m not the greatest. I’m the double greatest. Not only do I knock ’em out, I pick the round. I’m the boldest, the prettiest, the most superior, most scientific, most skillfullest fighter in the ring today.” In principle we may believe that self-qualification is suspicious, and leads to woolf-boolf type biased ranking. Ali’s statement on himself, however, is approved by the ”collective wisdom”: almost everyone from the generation who saw him in the ring believes that Ali was really the greatest. When the U.S. Army measured Ali’s IQ at 78, he said, ”I only said I was the greatest, not the smartest.” I find amazing how objectively describes himself: ”It’s just a job. Grass grows, birds fly, waves pound the sand. I beat people up.”

As opposed to the result of Ali’s positive self-ranking, another class of comparison expresses inferiority complex. The idea behind the quotation ”The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” may have its origin in the poem of Ovid (43 BCE – 17 or 18 CE) Art of Love. He wrote, ”The harvest is always richer in another man’s field.” There are other proverbs expressing similar attitude: ”The apples on the other side of the wall are the sweetest,” ”Our neighbour’s hen seems a goose,” and ”Your pot broken seems better than my whole one.” These all convey the message of others have a better life, are more fortunate than we are. The German version of the proverb states that ”Kirschen in Nachbars Garten schmecken immer besser” (The cherries in the neighbour’s garden always taste better.) A life might be miserable if you always feel that others have better stuffs. The feeling makes you envy and might lead to anxiety and to other mental health problems. The suggestion of Robert Fulghum, author of former best seller book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten is not only more objective, but also offers a viable strategy: ”The grass is not, in fact, always greener on the other side of the fence. No, not at all. Fences have nothing to do with it. The grass is greenest where it is watered. When crossing over fences, carry water with you and tend the grass wherever you are.”

The idiom ”comparing apples and orange” refers to situations, when two items practically cannot be compared. Apples and oranges are thought incomparable or incommensurable. In many European language ”comparing apples and pears” are used. Since comparison is the basis of any ranking procedure, and it has a unique role in or decision makings, I will argue that we need to find the balance between accepting reality and make an effort to change things towards future successes.



3 thoughts on “Comparison”

  1. I think that this relates to the extent to which one’s decision making style is more externally or internally driven – or the extent of autonomy in the decision making. There is a lot of work in the context education theory and education psychology on the importance of this distinction and the role of autonomy in the development of individuals and their personality. More autonomous persons compare themselves and their achievements and possessions against their own aims. However, in general more externally driven people dominate communities as it had been found in many contexts that comparison with neighbours and others dominates very much the decision making of most people.


  2. Comparison can be helpful to help motivate oneself to become a “better” version of themselves, however, it can become toxic. I wonder if people compare themselves to a higher degree now that social media is commonly used, leading to more mental health problems.


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