Comparing and Judging Each Other

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.

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4 Responses to “Comparing and Judging Each Other”

  1. Rolfe Schmidt Says:

    Good point, and great example with the Odyssey…

  2. anna Says:

    I have to raise my hand here, and say that building a non-judging learning community can be done!
    It’s hard to put into words what I have experienced with the group of families we are sharing our learning journey with.
    It’s a conscious choice to remain open to the ideals, beliefs and daily experiences of one another, yet it’s a choice that seems the most obvious one for all families involved. We learn so much from each other that way.
    Our co-op keeps us sane, lights our paths, provides friendships and learning opportunities, and a deep sense of connection.

  3. Lynn Says:

    Reminds me of an excerpt from John Taylor Gatto’s “Open Letter”: “David learns to read at age four; Rachel, at age nine: In normal development, when both are 13, you can’t tell which one learned first—the five-year spread means nothing at all. But in school I label Rachel “learning disabled” and slow David down a bit, too… I identify Rachel as discount merchandise, “special education” fodder. She’ll be locked in her place forever.”

    My son (22), who attended ps, was a “late reader” too – but has never read the Odyssey. Actually, he stopped trying in the 3rd grade when he decided that he had a “medium brain” in comparison to the other kids. If ranking one another is an instinct that we can’t suppress, I fight it on every front with my daughter (9) whom I homeschool. (I did try with my son, btw, but I was no match for the greater influence of the school environment.) For me, it’s a continual battle worth fighting. And, a great argument for homeschooling. (Long comment. Sorry.)

  4. Rolfe Schmidt Says:

    I think most people define their identity by comparing themselves with others, at least to some extent. You want to say “I’m different because I’m slower than everyone else”. Or faster, or more disciplined, or more relaxed, etc. You probably think there is more than one dimension to your uniqueness so you aren’t too threatened when someone comes along who is better than you in some area.

    These comparisons don’t have to be negative, and they don’t have to entail judging others as inferior. As long as people in a group respect each others natural need to define themselves through comparison, a group can remain open, friendly, and occasionally competitive in a good way.


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