Let’s cut comparisons and create community


Emma Colacino

“Comparison is the thief of joy.” I overheard this phrase on the famous eight-night Dorr trip in eighth grade from a Dorr teacher who had repeated the quote from Theodore Roosevelt. He had said it in response to a student making a light-hearted comparison about themselves and a peer. At first, the pithy saying did not make an impact on me. The phrase seemed odd and vague. But years later, I now believe it is one of the most profoundly true and important things I have ever heard. 

Even though I did not realize it at the time, comparisons were constant in my life. As a twin, it seemed as though people’s favorite questions to ask us fell in the category of “who is better at…” or “who is more…” I honestly never minded these relentless questions because even if my twin was better than me at something, I was able to say that I was better than her at something else. 

As time passed, I found that the comparisons I experienced were rarely ever in the form of fun and light-hearted questions about my sister and me from curious peers; rather, these comparisons began to come from myself, as my mind would be drawn to the ways in which my sister was better than I. It did not matter if it regarded to social or academic life; I constantly compared myself to her, which always left me feeling like a failure. But my comparisons were not limited to my sister: my mind would wander to friends, and I couldn’t help but think about how much better they were than me in every aspect. 

As comparing myself to others often caused me to deem myself as “less than,” I would also search to boost my own confidence from the habit. “Maybe someone was better at one thing than me, but I was better at something else,” I thought. Even though saying this phrase made me feel slightly better about myself, the habit of boosting your own confidence through comparisons is just as harmful as knocking yourself down with them. Just as Roosevelt’s quote suggests, these comparisons, both good and bad, really did steal my joy and confidence.

When comparing yourself to others, it is incredibly easy to see the worst in yourself while only seeing the best in others, which ultimately leads to feeling completely inadequate. But there is also the flip-side to this which is equally bad: comparing yourself to others as a way to feel better about yourself and your attributes. 

Feeling as though the only way to be confident and pleased with yourself is by putting someone else down, even if it’s just in your own mind, creates a habit in which your own opinion does not matter and your own self approval is useless. It forces you to view yourself in the most simplified version: as if the only important thing to your existence, is the fact that your grade is better than another person’s grade, for example. That is why this phrase is so meaningful; it not only means that pessimistic comparisons are the “thief of joy,” but that all comparisons can negatively affect our mentalities.  

Refraining from comparing yourself to others is not an easy task, especially at such a rigorous school filled with talented people, where the culture of comparison is incredibly prevalent. It seems like the first instinct of students after receiving a grade back is to turn to a friend and urgently ask “What did you get?” These habits may not make an impact on your own feelings about your grades, but they contribute to a larger feeling of competence only derived from comparison to others. Because of how widespread these comparisons are, I feel it is necessary to break the habits of toxic comparisons and harness your energy on your own positive attributes and accomplishments that are not in relation to others’ successes. After receiving a test, try to reflect on your own achievements. 

Is it naive to think that my suggestion to stop these comparisons, which are so firmly ingrained in the mind of many of us, will actually change someone’s mentality? Probably. But breaking the habit is well worth it, not only to help make the Horace Mann community more truly reflect the premise of a “caring community,” but to gain a greater appreciation for yourself.