General Question

wundayatta's avatar

Should we do our best to make it harder to compare ourselves?

Asked by wundayatta (58625points) March 11th, 2009

The shootings in Germany and Alabama give rise to this question. One online article (“The Profile of a School Shooter: The psychological makeup of individuals involved in school violence”) quotes from various sources, and suggests that alienation is a cause in these shootings:

”...most of the shooters were people who felt out of place and failed at social integration. These individuals attempted, to raise their social status and image by boasting of their violent intentions to others and instill the idea that they could control the fate of others. The US secret service has established the fact that most of the shooters convey that the shootings were as a result of alienation and persecution.”

I believe that it’s harder to be alienated if you don’t know how you compare. Not impossible, by any means, just harder. My kids’ school doesn’t give grades, just long reports. We have little idea of how they are doing compared to other students. If people had less information about how they are doing, there would be more uncertainty, and perhaps less motivation to such violence.

The insecure would feel worse, while the secure would feel even better. The distance between the two would grow, perhaps leading to more stress, and possibly compensatory behavior employing less socially acceptable tactics such as aggressiveness or violence.

I was thinking about the prevalence of sex questions on fluther. Without information, we can suspect we don’t compare well, sexually, but we don’t know for sure. Thus, a majority of men think they are below average. With information, men would know exactly where they stand, and could either definitely feel insecure or good about themselves.

Could uncertainty be good; perhaps reducing alienation, as well as antisocial behavior and violence?

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25 Answers

dynamicduo's avatar

What you are proposing is basically ignorance. Ignorance in general never makes things better. It is not the fault of data that insecure people are insecure, it’s the fact that the insecure person interprets the data in a way that reinforces the notion of themselves they hold.

Even if we got rid of all numbers and comparison methods, insecure people would still feel insecure about themselves, they would just use a different metric, such as looks, or perceived mental abilities, or charisma, or whatever their minds feel is appropriate to compare and dismiss themselves with.

There are far more effective ways to reduce insecurity, or extending further to school shootings, than by obscuring metrics. Such as by having a well run counseling program, an array of after school activities, discouragement of bullying, and simply better reporting on who the “troubled” students are so that they can be watched a bit more closely.

Similarly, there are way more ways for a person to be alienated beyond just grades or other metric comparisons. We all know how high school was a popularity contest (at least it was in my experience), and none of that was fueled by grades or metrics, it’s all social skill development, testing the bounds of interactions, finding out what a friend exactly is, and all that other stuff they cover on Degrassi. As many say, the primary point of schooling is not to learn academics but to learn social skills and start figuring out how the world works. Well I also think the primary purpose of school is to relieve adults of the burden of their kids, allowing adults to pursue their career and secure stability for the family.

In my mind, uncertainty is never good, let alone desirable in any way. Certainty and knowledge are valued over uncertainty and speculation, even if the knowledge isn’t what I want to hear. There will always be insecure and secure people in the world. I figure it’s a better approach to treat the underlying issues of why people are insecure rather than taking down one facet (data) insecure people use to judge themselves.

asmonet's avatar

^Summed it up. Wonderfully.

marinelife's avatar

What we need to do is teach at home and in school to embrace people’s differences and to have a basic respect for every human being. Even people that you choose not to be friends with deserve your kindness and respect.

If that plus non-violent conflict resolution were taught to children very early, there would not be these incidences.

Also, I know this is not a popular POV in our culture, but I believe that if there were much less access to guns in our culture, there would be correspondingly less mass murder. You cannot kill 22 people with a knife in one go.

augustlan's avatar

DD & Marina have said everything I was thinking, but could never have said so well.

casheroo's avatar

This whole “there are no winners in life” thing seems to be manifesting itself into our school system, apparently. Your children’s school doesn’t give grades?! That is bizarre. Kids have to realize that they cannot succeed at everything, failure hurts, but hopefully it means they will try even harder. That may be a whole ‘nother topic, but the fact your children’s school doesn’t give grades stuck out at me.

I agree with Marina, more gun control would help greatly.

SuperMouse's avatar

A bully is a bully. It is human nature for some people, who feel very insecure themselves, to pick on others they perceive as weaker. There is an argument to be made that getting rid of grades and comparisons with other students might change that and lead to greater self-esteem in all students, but I’m not sure I buy that. Self-esteem is complex and is built in many different ways. Not a single one of my kids is a straight A student, but I’ve tried very hard to help them understand that grades are not a measure of the person. They all seem pretty content with the person they are or are becoming. I do put a high value on grades and the importance of school, but I try not to let them tie their self-worth to that – or any other – single activity.

If I have learned anything in the last year, it is that things are not always as they appear. I’ve learned that comparing myself to anyone else in any way is pretty much a waste of time because I’m not comparing myself to the person, I’m comparing myself to my perception of that person. Often the two are very, very far apart.

I’m also chiming in to agree with those who say our ridiculously easy access to guns is another huge contributor in this situation. If either of these gunmen didn’t have easy access to the weapon, they might have had time to stop and think before committing such heinous crimes.

galileogirl's avatar

Sorry guys, the reason that the news is full of this kind of violence is because there is not enough “exciting” real news. 1 person out of 330 million killed his family and some other people, yawn. People kill family and strangers all the time. If the stock market fell another 300 points, Madoff didn’t show up for a court date, A-Rod confessed and Rush Limbaugh was outed by his teenage lover, this story would only be covered in the local news.

wundayatta's avatar

@casheroo: There are a number of schools around the nation that provide comprehensive individualized reports about a child’s skills and abilities, instead of giving grades. Home schoolers probably don’t give grades, either. Grades, subject to inflation, prejudice, inaccuracy and god knows what else, are a poor indicator of a student’s abilities or knowledge. There are other options.

Kids have to realize that they cannot succeed at everything, failure hurts…

Why? Failure not only hurts, but it discourages. Kids should learn that failure doesn’t matter. Neither does success. It’s enjoyment of a task that matters. Kids should be intrinsically motivated (as should we all), not extrinsically motivated. Going for the grade, going for the lurve, going for the money tarnish all the things done in their name, and also lead people to immoral activity. If people are motivated by doing the thing, they will never cheat to get extra reward. They will also do a better job.

@galileogirl: I’m not talking about prevalence of this stuff, or newsworthiness. I’m talking about what causes it. It’s a much larger issue, because for every mass murder, there are probably ten thousand other acts of antisocial behavior resulting from people who believe they compare poorly to other people, and that’s why no one likes them.

marinelife's avatar

@daloon I disagree that failure has to discourage. The lesson of picking oneself up and trying again is a vital one for kids to learn and parents to encourage, because everyone fails sometime.

casheroo's avatar

Exactly, Marina. Not everyone should get a trophy when they didn’t win the game. I can’t stand it when kids get trophy’s for participating. You can’t avoid that sort of thing anymore.

wundayatta's avatar

@Marina: maybe we have to learn the lesson you suggest, but a lot of people, myself included, fail once, and believe we are failures for the rest of our lives. I’m not talking about praising everyone, which drives me batty, too. I’m talking about situations where people always criticize, but never praise. You try and try and try and never are successful. Then, we you actually do succeed, you don’t even recognize it. You still think you’ve failed, because you’re a failure.

I’m willing to compromise. Let’s say that people vary. Some thrive on praise, and others thrive on criticism. When I was in junior high and high school: if someone told me I had done a bad job, I just stopped doing it. But if someone told me I did well, I would jump through the highest hoops to please them again.

I think expectations have a lot to do with performance. I think it’s a good thing to have kids always expect to do well. They are willing to try many more things, and may do much better at them. Kids who are criticized over and over end up doing little. I don’t want my kids to grow up like me. I want them to be able to do something in this world.

asmonet's avatar

With the proper lesson behind it failure does not discourage. Quite the opposite in fact.

Blondesjon's avatar

I’m sorry but gray is not my color and I do not care for the taste of adequacy. Those dipshits’ parents failed, Einstein’s didn’t.

they thought albert was mildly retarded at one point

galileogirl's avatar

@daloon There is no one reason why people exhibit violent anti-social behavior. The need to explain it makes us feel better because if we avoid that thing we will be safe.

While there is some evidence that bad genes and bad parenting may have a statistically higher relationship to overall bad behavior including drunk driving, theft and spousal abuse it isn’t necessarily true for serial and spree killers. The may just ave an extra wrinkle in their cerebral cortex or a fever as a child or any number of things that prevented the development of empathy. Nobody knows

wundayatta's avatar

Well, obviously I’ve failed here. Typical.

Blondesjon's avatar

@daloon…In comparison there are others who have failed more than you so you haven’t totally self fulfilled the prophecy.

galileogirl's avatar

@daloon Failure, oh no. Wait a minute, that was a bid for sympathy. Manipulative but not antisocial. Now sticking your butt in our faces, that may be the teeniest bit antisocial—-

wundayatta's avatar

@galileogirl Maybe a little sympathy, but mostly throwing in the towel. And how come you haven’t given in to the general feeling so you can appreciate the symbolism and insouciance of my avatar?

dynamicduo's avatar

I do hope your comment above about you failing here was mostly a joke, @daloon. Because you didn’t fail here, as there was no competition to fail at, and no one is judging you. It is only your mind that perceives you as failing, perhaps because your opinion was not supported by many people and you interpret that as being a sign of failure. It really doesn’t mean you have failed. It only means you have a different opinion than others, which should always be applauded. There is no need to throw in the towel, no one is here to catch it! And thanks for making me look up a new word :)

galileogirl's avatar

Insouciant isn’t the 1st word that springs to mind. lol

wundayatta's avatar

@galileogirl Do, pray, tell us what the first word is, won’t you?

@dynamicduo You are right, of course, but sometimes, on issues that I think are really, really important, I do feel like it is a failure if I can not show others the importance I see. This happens to be one of those issues. I could keep on going, of course, but in my estimation, I won’t be able to explain things any more clearly, so I’ve given up.

I will say that it doesn’t take a competition to determine success or failure, either. It only takes a goal and the achievement or not of that goal. But, Hell! You’re a libertarian. I’m a “progressive communitarian.” The world views that generate our political views also generate our views on this subject. It’s unlikely that we would ever agree on this. It would involve changing a world view. For both of us.

dynamicduo's avatar

I love hearing your replies because I know our brains work in drastically different ways. Thanks for taking the time to share.

I do agree with your ultimate point that our political ideologies are extensions of our world views, however I am vehemently opposed to the use of such labels as you have done here. I am not a libertarian. I have many viewpoints which are also held by libertarians, yes, but I am not a libertarian (libertarians are “supposed to be” old rich grey-haired men, after all). I am not a liberal nor conservative either. I am not a label. I am the sum of my experiences, beliefs, and actions. I am simply dynamicduo. Just as you are simply daloon. The only reason I’ve typed this paragraph (and edited it many times) is because you’ve unwillingly touched on the exact reason I hate labels – it’s too easy to point to them as being any explanation or reason why we are different. I also found your last two sentences to be rather humorous as my libertarian opinions have only been refined and strengthened recently (the past 5 years), thus the ability to change my world view is not something I see as set in stone, but I get the impression from your comment that perhaps it is a bit for you.

And I have to write a last line here because I will not end this comment with the line above. As I said in my first line here, I appreciate our differences. It would be rather dull if everyone was just like me or you, thinking the same way, never discussing anything because what’s the point if everyone agrees.

wundayatta's avatar

Maybe not so much set in stone, as it is like a slowly moving lava flow. Anyway, it works for me, so why change it?

What is this annoyance with labels? It’s a shortcut, and everyone knows that shortcuts leave out nuance and detail. What the hell is a progressive communitarian? Do you know? Does anyone? For me, it’s like a teaser. Come on! Ask me! What am I talking about? What am I thinking of?

People say the same thing about generalizations and stereotypes, like these things are bad. For Christ’s sake! These are the things that make it possible for us to build a model of the world. As every statistician knows, you take an average, and then you look at the variance and the residuals in order to see if you can improve your model.

We all start at the average. And we know (or should know) that people vary from the average. A label? That’s the best average approximation we make at the moment. As you said in the discussion where you called yourself a libertarian, you don’t really fit. But I don’t need to call you a libertarian. I could call you a wogogit. The point is, we’re different, and those differences come from our world views, and labels are the shortcut we use to state the beginning part of this sentence. Whether or not world views are changeable is not the issue. What matters is my perception, right or wrong, that I can do nothing further in the conversation about failure. What matters, I suppose, is that I choose to see that as a failure. Who knew you could fail at failure?

You might appreciate our differences. I’ve gotten into trouble for this before, because people interpret this as saying that I’m prejudiced, but I find some differences to be a big problem, in that they cause pain for some people, possibly a large number of people. If I do not change the mind of someone who I believe believes something I believe will (hopefully inadvertently) cause harm to a lot of people, then I feel pretty bad, and I feel like I’ve failed.

I believe these notions about failure and the role of failure are pretty important issues that have implications in many areas of society. We have not really stopped to define our terms or to use very specific examples, so there is still the possibility that we are closer than we think we are. I believe that some of that is going on here. However, it may be true that we do have a fundamental, unbridgeable difference in our understanding of the world, and I’ve found that’s the kind of thing I almost always can not argue against successfully.

I think that when you run into ideological disagreements, it’s more fruitful to dump that discussion and start talking about individual experience. That’s what gives rise to our ideas, and understanding each other’s experience in these areas will give us important insights as to how those ideologies were formed.

Now look what you made me do! Another tome!

dynamicduo's avatar

More! Write more! WRITE HARDER! * cracks whip *

I fully agree. And I do admit I was very curious as to what your label meant, but I decide not to Google it for fear of the prejudice it might have caused in my mind.

I don’t really know where my label-hate came from. Maybe it was influenced in part by trying to label my own sexuality, and being frustrated when one term wouldn’t work over another before I started thinking why I was trying to label myself. When I came to the conclusion that labeling myself only makes it easier for others to understand me, I decided that I would prefer not to associate with people who need that label to know who I am.

Even just writing this now makes me see how our interactions in this online community are not a perfect matching to offline communicating and associating, and thus I believe I will scale back my label-hatred when communicating textually to those I know do not know me. But I still feel it’s worthwhile to pronounce the hatred of labels, so that others who were in my position realize that labeling is not the end-all-be-all, it’s not required, and you should feel comfortable without needing a label.

wundayatta's avatar

My label is my own invention, and had you Googled it, I don’t know if you would have found anything.

I agree, though. There is no substitute for extended conversation to help others understand who we are.

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