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Soubresaut's avatar

Why do we have to be better?

Asked by Soubresaut (13702points) December 6th, 2010

Or superior, if that’s a more descriptive word.
This was partly inspired by this question, although not the question and answers themselves so much as the clarifications of the question and answers.

I was struck by how many of the responses were, ‘well we’re no better than animals, so no we’re not different.’ And how many more than that were ‘well, yes, we’re animals, but better because we’re _____’ (be it ability to create a sophisticated language, or science, technology, art, math, rockets to the moon, global destruction, etc). Well, why in terms of better or not better? Why is being an animal lowering ourselves?

And it’s not just in comparing us to other animals. It’s everything. There’s always better, there’s always worse, and that’s just the way it is.

We’re always telling ourselves that at least we’re better than that person or creature or business over there for whatever reason. And if we’re not, it’s usually because we’re feeling worthless, ourselves.—But see, even they’re we’re comparing, still.

Dictatorships feed off of that. “Look at those people over there who we’re so much better than!” (Let’s kill or enslave them!)

Why are we always comparing ourselves to other beings/things? Especially to find a way that we’re superior?
I mean, I’m often guilty of this too. But yet I’ll still do it, and know that I’m still doing it. Why?
Why do we do it?

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10 Answers

cookieman's avatar

I don’t know, but I could have written that question so much better than you.

OK, I’m kidding – but I truthfully think we’re just wired that way. To be competitive. To boost (or lower) our esteem by comparing ourselves to those we see as similar to us (in many regards).

I don’t have a problem with it in moderation. I think comparisons can gain us a sense of humility or provide motivation to strive for a goal.

The problem lies in the extremes. If everyone is so much better than you by simply breathing that can be debilitating emotionally and be a sign of depression.

Conversely, if you’re always seeking out ways you’re better than others, then you may be highly insecure and/or arrogant.

I’m sure much of this depends on your upbringing and how you were compared to others. Parents, teachers and other kids make comparrisons all the time. Even done with no intended malice, it’s there (implied and subtle).

augustlan's avatar

I wish I knew why we do it. One thing I learned in therapy it to try to replace “better” and “worse” (mainly “worse”, in terms of comparing myself to others) with “different”. It was actually really helpful.

nebule's avatar

I’m inclined to say that it’s ‘the selfish gene’ in us (crikey I hate that term…) but I think it’s true to a certain degree… we are made to survive. Believing that we are better than others gives us worth and motive in stark opposition to the humanitarian love that we also feel. However, I think we have a choice to recognise these two very complex things in us;...the battle between self-preservation and connection with others and find the balance between the two.

I too struggle with all too often thinking…well I’m better than so and so, so that makes everything alright. I feel I do this because I’m incredibly self-critical and all often think others are better than me, so I reverse it to redress the balance. But I think the real peace lies in admitting that we are ultimately all of the same worth. Although granted this throws up all sorts of ethical questions…e.g. Am I really of the same worth and murdering rapist? hmmmm.

marinelife's avatar

It is a path that leads nowhere good.

Why do we do it? I think we do it from impetuses of not wanting to fell bad ( “I am not so bad off, I am superior to so and so.”) and fear (“I cannot be so bad, because so and so is so much worse.”).

In either case, it is coming from a bad place in us, and we need to try to avoid doing it.

john65pennington's avatar

Adam and Eve was an example NOT to follow. i think this is the reason that men and women are always striving to do better in their life and not make the same mistakes of Adam and Eve.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

When I just read the question, I thought ‘of course we need to be better because otherwise we stagnate and life is about pushing one’s boundaries and growth’ and then I realized you were talking about why we have to be better than others or than nature or than animals. We want to feel special is why because we aren’t.

KatawaGrey's avatar

There is this universal idea that humans are more than animals. Almost everyone thinks this, it is not limited to one belief system. It is why we have ritualized the most basic of things like eating, sleeping, procreating and defecating. It is why we have invented taboos surrounding these very same activities. It is why we condemn ourselves for expressing our animal natures and instincts and why we praise those who can ignore the same. We have domesticated ourselves and if we stop thinking we’re better than animals, we lose that domesticity and the world becomes as dangerous a place for us as it is for wild animals.

wundayatta's avatar

We have competitions all the time and they are designed to figure out who is best. We want to know the best person in the class. We present our gpa’s to potential employers. We want to go to the most prestigious schools.

Comparisons are everywhere. Everywhere.

We have to be better if we want to survive. If we want our genes to survive. And since only people with a desire to compare well compete, they are the ones who will pass their genes on. Uncompetitive people will die without reproducing, thus taking uncompetitive people out of the gene pool.

It’s built into us. It’s a survival mechanism. Everyone who accomplishes much of anything does it because they want to be better than others. Not everyone can be the best, but you can certainly be better than some if you try.

Even people with low self-worth compete. In fact, one could argue that they compete the hardest because they feel the worst about being inferior. There could well be a positive relationship between depression and success, oddly enough. Think of it this way: happy people have no reason to improve things. They are already happy. It is only those who are drive, often by personal demons, who constantly push to be better, because they are chasing that elusive goal of happiness, which they can never get unless they are the best.

josie's avatar

You are better because you understand what the word “better” means. There may be some debates on specifics, but most people understand the general notion of the word “better”.
It is that fact that makes us better.
So do we act accordingly, or not?

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

Fact from fiction, truth from diction. In a logical sense you have to know who is better or what is better. That is why people do it. No one wants to be mediocre. If you had sports teams that played each other but never kept score or statistics it might be all good in a moral feel good sense but in a logical sense how would you know your team played well or was even improving? You have to have some benchmark and that is usually the best at doing whatever. Sometimes that best is subjective, I asked a question on who people believed was the top 5 guitar players and many people had the same artist but also many had their own favorites that few others chose. With acting, when an actor gets the Oscar he/she knows that he/she was determined the best performance that year. What does that do? It gives those freshman actors an example of what top notch acting is so they can strive to obtain those skills and get to that lever themselves. If there was no recognition for the best performance maybe those who have gotten the Oscar would have gotten lazy and not really tired. How would any one know how well or how bad an actor was? By how many films they get booked in or how much money they earned? And would that not show in some form who was best or not even if there were no awards given? Knowing where you stand next to the top, even if the top is artificial, tells you how much further you have to go.

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