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We pay a price when we compare and contrast
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There cannot be compare and contrast between two without a risk of alienation. When we compare ourselves, we can only do it if we put ourselves in the center of the universe. We count up our goodness, our religiosity; our hidden sins are less than their more visible ones. It becomes all about us. - photo by Joseph Cramer, MD
Compare and contrast in 25 words or less is a common writing exercise in elementary education.

Compare and contrast actually starts much earlier. The brain of the child is taught to categorize the world they see. Colorful childrens books compare an elephant to a mouse. The elephant is big, and the mouse is small. The giraffe is tall, the ant is short. The whale is heavy, the hummingbird is light.

Contrast is a harsher word. What are the differences? How are two objects not alike? Something is soft; something else is hard. A cloud is soft; a rock is hard.

Contrast is also easier. Everyone can see that the mouse and the elephant have nothing in common. It is hard to see that both are mammals and give birth to their young alive and not in shelled eggs.

The difficulty of compare versus the ease of contrast extends to humans. How are people and trees alike? We are both alive; we influence the survival of the Earth. How are we like the moon? Depending upon your appearance, we can say you are both heavenly bodies.

While we may be able to find commonality between a giant rock and ourselves, it seems much harder to find commonality between other people. Compare the civilization of the Khmer in Cambodia to the Romans in Italy or the Mayans of Guatemala. Compare our children asleep in their beds in their own rooms with the boys and girls huddled up against their mother for warmth in a plastic tent in a refugee camp.

How is our hope for the future of our children different from that of others who risk the dangers of a nighttime escape from one country to another? Compare and contrast that in 25 words or less.

There are differences between those who kill to silence dissent and those who argue a better way. Of course, if you think everything is yours then stealing is acceptable to you. Contrast that attitude with the generosity of so many who freely give of their own to someone else in need.

It is often said in war that enemies are different. It is true political philosophies can divide us. Despotic thugs lie about peace while they provide men and weapons to their unlawful cause. We want to fight them. To battle another person forces a construction of contrasts. If there were no contrasts and only comparisons, then killing a fellow earthling would be much harder. Sadly, it would not be impossible.

We have built an economy of compare and contrast. Commercials show a neighbor driving up in a new vehicle. The shine glistens off the bright paint. Meanwhile, the jealous neighbor, in contrast, has a car that is only one year older. We dont compare that both work, both stop and start when they are supposed to and both cost a lot of money.

Compare and contrast are the root of pride. We compare ourselves with others. We contrast what they have or what we have. If they have more, we want it; if we have more, we want them to know it. There cannot be compare and contrast between two without a risk of alienation. When we compare ourselves, we can only do it if we put ourselves in the center of the universe. We count up our goodness, our religiosity; our hidden sins are less than their more visible ones. It becomes all about us.

We too often think we are the whales and elephants of the world and others are the sardines and mice. Compare and contrast permits the brain to simplify and organize the world we live in. Perhaps we should teach our first-graders only to compare, and not to contrast, in 25 words or less.
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