comparison is not a compliment

“You are so much better than my other hairdresser.” “I like your sermons much more than my previous Pastor’s.” “This chicken tastes better than what I make.”

These comments, and others like it, represent one way we try to compliment others that is sometimes not that complimentary at all. Comparison.

Comparison – by definition – is putting two things side by side and assessing them in relation to one another.

We do it when we’re shopping for apples, cars or schools. We do it when we are determining best value for money on insurance policies and home loans. This one is bigger, faster, fresher, or cheaper. This one has more included or provides greater flexibility. Based on what we value most we make a choice between the two (or several).

There are a number of reasons comparison as a means of encouragement can be deficient.

  1. The thing you’re comparing to might be rubbish and so it may not be complimentary at all. “Your choc chip cookies are so much better than my mum’s (… which are so rock hard I’ve chipped three teeth!)”. In this case, you’re essentially saying “Congratulations, your cookies are edible!” That’s a low bar to jump. Without a quantifiable measurement of the person or skill you’re being compared to, it lacks the substance to bring the encouragement we would hope. 
  2. You communicate that the focus of our striving ought to be on outdoing others rather than doing our own best. “You are such a great runner, you ran faster than Johnny …(who is 84 and has had 2 hip replacements).” Again, hardly a high bar to clear and probably not the goal an athlete has in mind when they hit the track. Our encouragement should never be to be better than anyone other than ourselves. Even comparison to the most elite in any field can become inadequate if our best would call us beyond that or to a different expression. 
  3. We call the recipient of our praise to pride. “Give yourself a pat on the back, you did better than the other guy!” Again, without any reference to how we’ve gone in relation to our own capacity, growth or expectations, we are drawn to consider our own performance in light of another and find significance in that difference. Developing any sense of superiority should never be the goal of encouragement. 

Complimenting by comparison doesn’t edify the person being complimented or the person or thing they’re being compared to. Encouragement that builds up and feedback that empowers should stand alone. 

These cookies are delicious – full stop. You did a great job – that’s all. Your efforts were amazing – the end. 

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