“You are not better than anyone,
and nobody is better than you”. A general truth that most of us know, but ignore at the same time. We look down on everyone who is worse than us. We envy all of those, who are better.
It’s like we cannot even control it. For example, “This guy’s just an idiot. How can you buy such a thing and expect it to be genuine?”, is what we say about a friend, after he realizes that the medicinal herbs he had bought for $40 in Morocco, were actually a total scam.
We call voters of the opposite political party stupid, because they cannot see the simplest mistakes or corruption their politicians are constantly doing. (We might call those politicians stupid as well.)
In the subway, while overhearing some peeps’ conversation, in which they are constantly throwing out stereotypes, deeply inside we are saying to ourselves that we are better than them, because we do not generalize like that anymore.
Whenever, whatever we are doing, we are comparing ourselves to the others, and thinking how do they relate to us. Are they better or worse than us?
Why do we compare ourselves?
We compare ourselves, because we feel being special and we do not want to be “just the average”. We want to know who is better. If we aren’t, we will end up being dissatisfied and doing everything in order to change it.
It also serves other purposes. When we are polarizing people into “good” and “bad” categories, it helps us to keep everyone on the “good” side. (Because nobody wants to be on the “worse” side.)
It helps us to simplify the world. The world itself is a very complex thing, and understanding all its’ processes and causes would take a lot of time. We would have gotten lost multiple times while trying to understand it fully. In contrast, when everything is split into “good” and “bad” categories, it is much easier to navigate through it. No longer we have to think about every single problem, and thanks to our other like-minded friends, we help each other to keep ourselves on the “good” side of the world.
The Comparison Trap
The problem is that all of the reasons above are true only in the short run. Simplifying the world will never help us understand it fully. Polarizing all the solutions to a problem leads to no resolution at all. Constantly comparing ourselves to the others will either affect our clear thinking about the world, or just make us miserable.
The main issue is that we are doing nothing to prevent it, even though that we know it is wrong. For example, we Europeans, we have gotten to know it a lot of time ago, that admitting some people are better from the another ones, is just wrong.
It is rooted deeply in our Christian culture: “Every human person is an equal human being.” Our parents had reminded us this throughout our whole childhood. “Don’t take the other child’s toy, he wants to play with it as well, don’t take everything for yourself!” “Don’t laugh at his glasses. He has a poor sight. It’s not his fault.” “Maybe he doesn’t play soccer too well, but that doesn’t mean you can bully him! Everybody’s better in something else.” Those are just a few examples of how we learn that all of us are equal to each other and we should treat them as we would treat ourselves.
The irony is, at the same time, we Westerners tend to compare ourselves more often than any other culture. It is like we know everybody is equal, but we still want to be better than anyone else.
“As an American, I was taught I was a citizen of the “best” country in the world. As a white, heterosexual child I was told I was “normal” and others were “different”. As a Christian, I was taught that I was a member of the only “right” religion, with a calling to lead others to see the way. (…)
I assume those with more education or more money than me earned their status as my superior, while simultaneously questioning the intelligence of those active in the church. (…)
I find myself thinking that fat people don’t exercise, that beautiful people are dumb, that the unemployed don’t try that hard to work — the list goes on. I make 100s of tiny snap judgments every day, ranking myself a bit better or a bit worse than my neighbour.“ — Alexis Tryon (“I’m not better than anyone. Nobody’s better than me.”)
What the fuck? Why are we prejudging everyone and comparing ourselves to them?
Freedom and competitiveness
Very probably it origins from the competitiveness, which is also deeply rooted in our Western culture. “The better grades you will have, the better future you will end up in.” “The better looking you will be, the higher chance there is you will succeed.” And so on.
I do not disagree on those facts. Being competitive does increase your chance to outcompete the others and succeed. Competitiveness is good for our progress and can help to make our lives more fulfilling.
I also have nothing against saying stuff like “Person A is better than person B at doing X.” Avoiding speaking such stuff is senseless. It is inevitable that Roger Federer is a better tennis player than I am. Even though I never tried politics, I think it is safe to say that Angela Merkel is a better politician than I am. And I am a shitty musician and painter as well, that I know for sure. On the other hand, I would say I am a pretty good software developer. I’m very proficient in it.
Is there anything wrong with me saying “I’m a good (better than average) software developer”? I don’t think so. If that is true, that I am better than average person at software development, and I can base it on f.e. my salary or quickly gained experience, then that is a fact and there is no sense denying it.
The problem would appear if I had said “I am good at software development, so I am better and smarter than the others.” There is a small difference in saying, but a huge one in meaning, between sentences “I am better than person B at doing X” and “I am better than person B, because I am better at doing X”. I can be better or worse than somebody else in doing a specific activity. But I can never say that I am better or worse from somebody else in general.
Because if I had said so (“I am better than average, because I am smart and good at software”), then the follow-up question is: what makes me think, that I am better than someone else? (Or that I am worse than someone else.) Did I study the place and culture he/she was raised in? Am I familiar with his/her whole past, which shaped his/her life? Do I know what choices and more especially, why, did that person make them, to end up as he/she ended up?
No! I don’t know their background. I don’t know the causes of their actions. I can’t say they are “worse”, “less inteligent”, nor “stupidly ignorant”, because what do I have to prove it? Nothing.
But still, we tend to compare each other and dare to say which one of us is better.
In the name of what? Justice? We have law and judges for it. In the name of God? The god is to judge, not us. Progress, evolution? Let “their” fate be as it is, we don’t need to change it basing on false assumptions.
Law of Jante
The truth is: “We are not to think we’re anyone special or that we’re better than anybody else.” That is the general rule of Law of Jante, that is present in Scandinavian culture since years.
Yet, many of us still need to learn it. Rarely I do meet people that agree with me on this thought. (Unless they believe in strong determinism.) I am not surprised. For very long time I was also ignorant on this thing; I used to say “What? I can’t say that I am better than anyone? This is stupid. I am for sure better than some people, maybe not all of them, but at least some.”
I think for me it had slowly changed with time. When I got to travel more and more, I noted that people don’t really differ, nevertheless what culture, country or social class they were raised in. Before, I had a few types of people that I would call “better”, “smarter” or “just lazy”. But recently, I noticed that I just stopped using those words at all, at least in the general sense.
This is because I believe nobody is born stupid. No person on Earth wants to be intentionally stupid. Nobody wants to have a worse life. And only psychopaths intentionally try to hurt the others.
The fact is, humans since ever, even when they were still apes, wanted nothing but to have the best possible lives for themselves. It did not matter what culture they were raised in, of what race they were of, what school they have gone into. Everybody wants to end up having happy and fulfilling life.
People have done “stupid” things because they have had wrong reasons for it. Not because they liked stupidity.
They didn’t do the “good” things because they lacked the will to do it. They didn’t know what’s good. They had no other way. Or they just didn’t give a fuck about what’s “better” or “worse” for them, because they were good with their life as it was.
Once you acknowledge the fact that people become what they are, as a result of their genes and environment, not because of some “fate” or “inborn genius/stupidity”, you stop insulting them when you have no serious reason for it. You stop being jealous, because you know you’d end up with the same result, if you’d start where they were.
You start to look at problems and people’s behaviors as a cause and effect relationship. Instead of calling somebody “stupid”, you point out their specific mistakes and help them to avoid those in the future. Instead of crying that you have it worse than the others, you try to understand the process how it happened and think about the way how to improve your position.
“You are not better than anyone, and nobody is better than you.”
If you think you are better, in the best case, it is just your position that is better. In the other case, you have just made yourself self-entitled and ignorant.
How come you to judge, that you are a better or worse person than anyone else?
Do not generalize that somebody is better or worse than you. If you want to improve yourself, that’s cool, but do not do it at the cost of the others. If you want to improve the world, that’s ok as well, but do not do it basing on general and false assumptions. Help the cause, not the effects. Never say someone is an idiot, because he is never trying to be a such one intentionally.
You aren’t worse than anyone just because you cannot do something. And no one is any better than you, just because he can do something you can’t. It’s just that you hadn’t gone yet with that specific “path”, that leads to the place you would want to be in.
- “I speak to everyone in the same way, whether he is the garbage man or the president of the university.” — Albert Einstein
- “Treat everyone with the same respect until they do something worthy of losing it. I was raised to treat the janitor with the same respect as the CEO.” — Anonymous
- “Confidence isn’t walking into a room with your nose in the air, and thinking you are better than everyone else, it’s walking into a room and not having to compare yourself with anyone in the first place.” — Anonymous
- “When we label others we are displaying our fear and reluctance to make the effort to understand them. The labels share much more about ourselves than they do to prove our point.” — Mary Brandstetter’s comment on “Smart people don’t think others are stupid” (Derek Sivers)