Compare or Contrast



Tea or coffee? Paper or plastic?  Regular or Super size?   We are inundated with choices every day whether we realize it or not.  Some require little to no thought, while others cause us great consternation. When faced with making a decision of importance, we often will weigh one side against another.  Viewing the pros and cons is one way to label this process, and another is to compare and contrast ideas or choices.  I asked my students to write a compare/contrast essay last week and decided that perhaps I, too, should write one.

The first dimension of this process is the comparison.  Comparisons are a part of everyday life.  Our children compare their clothing with that of their friends.  Athletes compare stats and abilities.  Businessmen compare bank accounts.  We are all searching for people “like us.”  There is an inherent need to be a part of a larger whole.  Even those who would consider themselves to be on the fringes of society have a relationship, a connection, with others who are breaking the status quo.

The idea of comparison can be both negative and positive.  In the negative sense, people compare in order to disassociate with certain groups.  They may even compare simply to boost their own self esteem.  However, comparing can also be a positive trait.  By comparing, people can be challenged to succeed.  A difficult situation may pose a stumbling block to one, but when that same situation is viewed through the lens of another, a new solution presents itself.

In contrast, pun intended, the second dimension of this analysis is contrasting one idea with another.  What makes one choice different from another?  Two roads diverged in a yellow wood.  There was a difference between them and a choice to make.  Sometimes those differences can lead to further learning.  At other times it may cause us to turn back.  It all depends on the individual.

Again, there are both negative and positive traits to consider.  Many times people fear differences.  Racism stems from this fear.  If someone looks or sounds differently, then walls are thrown up.  “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught” is a song from South Pacific by Rogers and Hammerstein.  The lyrics are powerfully written and show just how negative contrasting people can be.

You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year,
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!

Rogers and Hammerstein

The positive side of contrasting ideas, thoughts and decisions is that there is room for growth.  Friedrich Nietzsche said it best with, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” Now I’m probably taking a bit of license with this quote, but if we allow ourselves to explore ideas that are different, if we contemplate choices that are unfamiliar and possibly uncomfortable, we will no doubt find that we have evolved in some way.  And that is far better than to have suffered from intellectual and emotional atrophy.

While it is easy to sit and contemplate the comings and goings of human beings, it is far more difficult to live this life.  Much more time needs to be spent on comparing and contrasting the decisions that bombard us on a daily basis.  We have choices to make that will either lead us to a higher plane or leave us to fester where we are most comfortable.  The choice is entirely up to us.  Or as Hamlet said, “To be or not to be:  that is the question.”