On one of my email lists, a mom expresses her disappointment in her local homeschooling groups. She thought, in leaving the school system, that she would avoid the judging and comparisons that go on between moms. Yet, she was unable to find a homeschooling group that didn’t separate themselves somehow from other homeschoolers. Even in groups that were inclusive, the moms spent a lot of time and energy setting up the social dynamics of who was the most advanced, most unschooly, most traditional, most this, most that. She finally got fed up, and left all the groups and hasn’t been back since.
She’s found out the big secret. It’s human nature to compare, judge and find ways to see ourselves as superior. This exists everywhere, because it’s part of who we are.
Perhaps, that’s why school is so appealing in our society – it provides a lot of opportunity to express this part of our humanity. In fact, it’s encouraged.
It’s hard to find a group anywhere that doesn’t exhibit this kind of comparative behavior. A group has to specifically be set up as an “accepting” group in order to avoid this. Or else we forget that we are doing it, and comparing and judging becomes implicitly OK when there isn’t some guidance to stay away from it.
To a certain extent, comparisons are grounding. They tell us where we stand. Bring us back to our animal instincts of knowing our place in the social hierarchy. They are also comforting, because it gives us walls around where we are so we can feel safe. Comparing and judging tells who is with us in our world, and who isn’t.
But, these same grounding, comforting comparisons are also limiting. And separate us from one another. When we compare ourselves to one another, we put distance between ourselves and who we are comparing ourselves to. Perhaps, that’s exactly why it happens so often.
Then there’s the whole idea of what is “bad” and what is “good”. In some groups, it’s “good” to be ahead in things, in other groups, it’s “better” to be right on schedule, and others, it’s even a competition of who is the most “behind”, especially if it’s retrospect comparisons (my son didn’t read until he was 19! Then, the next day, he picked up The Odyssey and read it cover to cover – in old English!.) Funny how “bad” and “good” changes depending on who’s in the group.
It’s an instinct we can’t suppress. But we can be aware of it, and recognize how unimportant it is. Or at least, how it separates us if we let this instinct take over.