Picture yourself standing in line at your favorite bakery, waiting with great anticipation to purchase a delicious pastry to eat. As you stand in line you excitedly examine the menu and the baked goods on display behind the glass counter. Should you buy the blueberry muffin? The cinnamon raisin bagel? Or should you choose the donut with chocolate frosting? You also take into consideration the price of each item. If you are really craving a cinnamon raisin bagel but it cost more than the blueberry muffin, would you decide to pay extra or go with the still delicious, but less satisfying, blueberry muffin?
In the grand scheme of things, choosing the food we eat for breakfast is not extremely important but our ability to make decisions is very important. My point in creating this fictional scenario is to show that comparison is an integral part of who we are. From deciding what movie to watch, to deciding what major to choose in college, we are constantly comparing multiple options against each other make decisions.
Comparison has incredible power because we use it to make judgements, decisions, and assign value to things in every facet of our lives.
Every decision we make is rooted in how we assign value. What matters the most in life? Is it God? Friendships? Money? Success? Marriage? Maintaining a good image? Decisions are only made based on the assignment of value. In the first chapter of his book The Knowledge of the Holy, author A.W. Tozer remarked, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”
Colleen Roller, Vice President at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, makes the statement in her article “The Power of Comparison: How It Affects Decision Making” that we are incapable of assessing or assigning value without comparison. They key component of any person’s view of the world is how the person views God. Comparison is a tool that we use in choosing our religion. It is a tool we use in determining how much value to assign to a relationship with God. People examine the many claims about and beliefs in God and then choose the one that appears to be the most truthful.
Many who are Christians would agree that the recognition of God’s grace and a desire to honor him motivate their decision making. They assign value to obeying God and holding the Bible as the ultimate authoritative truth. The Bible says that we are no longer condemned (Romans 8:1), that we are adopted as children of God (Ephesians 1:5), and that we are saved by grace (Ephesians 2:8). Christians have compared to Bible to other Holy books and have decided that the Bible is the truth. The tenets set forth in the Bible will then be what motivate the decision making of Christians.
Muslims believe in Allah and base their life decisions off of trying to earn Allah’s blessing. The Holy Book that Muslims hold as the authoritative truth is the Qu’ran. Muslims assign the greatest value to living in a way that aligns with the Qu’ran. The Qu’ran says that Allah loves believers in him who do good (surah 3:134) but does not love those who do not do good (surah 2:190). Therefore, since Muslims believe the Qu’ran to be the absolute truth, they live their lives with such beliefs as motivation in their decision making.
Members of transcendental faiths such as Hinduism, Buddhism, and Shintoism believe that God is incarnate in everything. Even though they hold to a very different view of God than monotheists. What they believe about God is still very important and an integral part in their decision making process. If a person does not believe in God, Allah or any other form of god, then he will assign value to the most important aspects of the natural world and make decisions based on strictly physical things and natural concepts.
Comparison also plays a role in assigning value in areas less complex than our view of God. Roller says that the assignment of value is relative to the context within which the objects we are assigning value to exist. In addition, Christopher K. Hsee, Behavioral Science and Marketing professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, claims that people assign value in different ways when they see things by themselves or when we see things compared to each other (557-58).
Therefore, we will assign value differently to the same thing depending on the context in which we observe the object, relationship, etc.
This applies also to how we view ourselves. I thoroughly enjoy playing guitar. When I play guitar in private, I tend to think that I am a fairly good musician. When I begin to branch out from playing alone to playing in public, I will begin to discover one of two things. If I am surrounded by other guitarists who are of the same or lower skill level than myself, then my belief that I am a well-rounded musician will continue grow.
On the other hand, as I continue to play music with other musicians, I will come across others who are just as good or even better than I am. I will then begin to question whether or not I am actually as good as I believed myself to be. I could respond in one of two ways, either I would be inspired to work even harder to perfect my craft or I would be discouraged and begin to take a negative view of myself.
The way that we view ourselves and assign value to our own abilities is dependent upon the context in which we view ourselves. This is simply a fact of life. We have an innate desire and ability to compare. People do not consciously decide to begin comparing themselves to other people just as people do not consciously decide to begin comparing three different breakfast foods.
While we don’t have control over our innate tendency to compare and contrast, we do have control over how we use comparison in our lives. Choosing to believe in God or not believe in God, choosing how we view ourselves, and choosing to what we assign value in the world around us are all products of comparison. These three elements are what shape who we are: they are what shape our worldview.
Referring to our earlier example, what we think about God will only be determined by how we assign value. Even people who have not critically examined their religious beliefs believe what they do because they assign value to what their parents, mentors, or friends tell them about God.
We assign value to ourselves by using comparison in multiple ways. Since I believe in the God of the Bible, then I will compare what the Bible says about God’s view of me with my view of myself. I will also compare my view of myself with what other people say about me. I will compare my abilities to the abilities of those around me. In addition, we compare who we think we are with what society says we should be.
Our self-image is defined by what we decide to let carry the most weight in determining how we view ourselves. Comparing ourselves to other people is not inherently destructive. Comparing what we believe God says about us with what people say about us is not wrong. It can be very beneficial.
It is the outcome of this comparison that has the ability to create or destroy; build up or tear down; encourage or discourage. Comparison is a tool given to us by God to use in assigning value and meaning. When comparison is used to destroy self-image and speak destructive messages into people’s lives is when it becomes an abuse of the power. Every person has the ability to embrace who they were made to be. Each person is unique for a reason. Comparison can spur us forward in becoming who we were made to be, or cause us to believe we need to be something we were not made to be.
Finally we have the power, through comparison, to decide which objects, relationships, and ideas to assign value. Every day we have to make decisions such as what to eat, what to buy, where to work, who to spend time with, what to read, what to watch, and the list goes on. All of these decisions are made based on the assignment of value which is rooted in comparison.
Comparison has power.
The power to give life or take it away.
The power to inspire creativity and individuality or stifle them.
Alan Terry is a Sophomore at Bryan College studying Biblical Studies and Business. This is his first year as a member of the Worldview Initiative. Some of Alan’s hobbies include playing piano, writing poetry, eating, and getting lost in the mountains.