I have my two children at home with me at the moment. One is a 20 year old second year university student, the other turns 18 tomorrow and is/was in the final year of her A-levels. It is fair to say that both of their lives have been severely disrupted by the current situation. But they can’t agree on who has it worst.
Social comparison theory explains how we determine self worth by comparison to others. Those that we perceive to be better off than us and those that we perceive to be worse off. Whilst under most conditions we have the learnt ability to keep these things to our internal voice, under stress and pressure, the veil of social acceptability can sometimes slip.
That’s why my son thinks his lot is worse than his sister’s as he is dragged away from his home, his life and his friends. And she feels done to beyond compare, as her A levels have been snatched away from her.
In a similar way we can see this play out in the world of work. People who are at home bemoan the fact and long to be out and about and working. Those out at work long for the safety of the home. We point the fingers at football players and CEOs, whilst they talk about their tax and charitable contributions being greater than those of most.
Reactions like this are entirely normal, they’re part of our psychology. It doesn’t mean that the judgments we make are entirely right, or indeed entirely wrong. They are how we make sense of the world and allow us to find our sense of self.
“I am justified in my actions, because of xxx, whereas they are not because of xxx.”
“They are a good human being because they do xxx, they are a bad human being because of xxx.”
But at the same time that these reactions are entirely human, they provide little benefit in a time that requires more social cohesion than at any point in my life. We can’t stop ourselves having these thoughts, but we can ask whether expressing them is truly helpful to the situation we are facing into, or is more about making us feel better about ourselves.
There will be time aplenty to assess the rights, the wrongs, the successes and the failures. We will all look back and ask ourselves what more we personally could have done. Until that time, we might be better stopping to think what it is like to walk in the shoes of others, rather than bemoan them for not walking in ours.