The Power of Comparison

People that know me will confirm that I rarely experience a hesitation before giving an answer or comment, in any situation when it comes to things I am passionate, I just cannot stay quiet.

Last week in the last minute of a lesson my student asked me:

Teacher, how am I evolving?  

I answered: You are making correct statements, negations and questions in 3 tenses present, past and future. You can ask help, directions and talk about you, your family and possessions and all this from zero in only 11 lessons, I would say that this is a good result.

No, teacher. How am I evolving compared to the other students you are teaching?

I had a long hesitation moment.  My brain pulled out another 5 questions – Why does he want me to compare him with others? And if others are learning faster, will he learn harder or will he stop learning because this might be interpreted as he would not be gifted… and if others learn slower will this make him feel somehow special or this will make him push himself less as he already acquires the information faster than other people.

From my point of view, the biggest advantage of private classes is that people can learn when they want and how much they want, they benefit of a personal learning plan adapted to their level and they advance in their rhythm.  So, why to compare us with others, in this case, as far as I see the person should focus only on himself and on his personal growth.

All day I thought why people compare themselves to others. I realised that I also do it; all people do it, but why? I made a research and it seems that this is a normal human behaviour.  People have a tendency to compare themselves to others and it is as automatic as any other human emotion. In daily life, we constantly judge ourselves and others about everything from intellectual merit to athletic prowess. A multitude of psychology studies have shown that comparisons with other people can be used as an effective means for self-evaluation, and conversely, people base judgments of other people on knowledge of their own traits. In the same time, the negative effects of comparisons keep us from our growth and embracing our greatest abilities.

The author Marco Wittmann, a doctoral student in cognitive neuroscience at the University of Oxford says: “We found that although people estimated their abilities on the basis of their own performance in a rational manner, their estimates of themselves were partly merged with the performance of others.” Another important conclusion was that interacting with high performers makes people feel more capable in cooperative team settings but less competent in competitive situations. “The findings potentially have implications for social interactions in the workplace as well as clinical disorders such as depression.”

According to a study published in Neuron, comparisons are often unfair, biased and almost always puts our focus in a place outside of ourselves. Ratings of our own abilities are strongly influenced by the performance of others.

Logically I wonder if comparing students and their performance is appropriate in a classroom.

Since I’ve started to work as a teacher I am continuously looking for methods that would raise the efficiency of the learning process to offer a maximum of knowledge in a minimum amount of time, I accept that some people might manifest a better performance if challenged, and some need competition to feel challenged and at the same time some people might block if confronted with others in a competition. The best way would be to understand your own way and follow it if today you know more than yesterday it means you’ve evolved and you are at least with one step closer to achieving your goal. Focus on the fact that not your speed but your persistence will make the difference for your growth in all fields. There may be times when competition is appropriate but to do not forget that the most appreciated manifestations of the humans such as love, gratitude, humility, empathy and generosity cannot be compared and on our life path exactly these are those that make the difference.

With best wishes for all my readers,


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