The Illusion of Better

Yeah…I’m guessing that this guy probably thinks that he’s better than you.

Here is what I believe.

If you’re the type of guy/gal who is super sweet and nice to the CEO (or any executive) of your company, but you also consistently treat the janitors or the front line staff in your company like crap, then there’s no doubt in my mind that you’re a horrible person.

Yeah, I said it.

Sadly, I’m starting to lose count of the amount of people who I encounter at work, and outside of work, who act this way. It’s sickening, it’s destructive, and most of all, it has to stop.

So, why do some people act this way?

From what I’ve seen, it all comes to down to one destructive belief:

The Illusion of Better.

The Illusion of Better

Better is a very dangerous word.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s cool to have preferences. For example, I believe that the NCAA March Madness basketball tournament is better than any other sporting event in the world, and that white chocolate is better than any other form of chocolate in the world (side note: okay, I know that it’s technically not chocolate…but you’re willing to play along with me, right?) 

But we all know that’s not what I’m talking about.

Using the term “better” to describe people (or a group of people) is the problem that I’m talking about here, and it’s too destructive to be ignored for a moment longer.

The people who have been hypnotized by the “Illusion of Better” are pretty easy to spot. I’m certain that you’ve encountered a few of these people at one time or another in your career.

  • It’s the person who will offer the utmost respect and kindness to the CEO of his company, but in his next breath, he’ll treat the janitor who cleans his office as if she’s a sub-human piece of trash (or at best, she’ll be treated as if she’s invisible.) He does it because he believes that a well-educated and successful CEO must be better than a “lowly” janitor, and also more worthy of his respect.
  • It’s the customer who acts in a condescending manner towards the store employees whenever she’s out shopping. She does it because she believes that since they’re all rocking company uniforms and she’s rocking Prada, that obviously means that she’s better than all of them.
  • It’s the supervisor who treats all of her employees like indentured servants and demands that they “obey her at all times.” She does it because she mindlessly believes that her working title makes her better than the employees who have not earned the right to be called a “supervisor.”

Those are just a few examples of the illusion, but here’s the unshakable truth (and it’s one that should not surprise any well-adjusted adult):

No one is ever “better” than another human being.

Better or Never Better

Do you know what’s the funniest (or saddest, depending on how you look at it) thing about people who act like they’re better than other people?

People who have a desperate need to act as if they’re better than other people, only do so because deep down  in their most private moments, they know that they’re not better than anyone.

Talk about irony.

In my near-maniacal obsession to create a kinder world, I can’t let these people continue to roam around workplaces (or anywhere else) unchecked.

People who believe that they’re better than other people cause an enormous amount of emotional pain on a daily basis–and usually, that pain is directed at the good folks who these people believe that they’re better than. And as far as I’m concerned, anything that causes a great deal of pain and sadness to a lot of good people is something that needs to be dealt with immediately.

The best way to immediately deal with this issue to simplify it. So, let’s break it down:

Anyone who thinks that they’re “better” than another person is actively making this world a worse place for all of us.

There is no middle ground. As mentioned last week, there are two clear sides to this issue, and each of our actions will put us on one side of the slash or the other.

Better/Never Better. That’s it.

Any person who chooses to smugly look down their nose at another human being for whatever reason falls squarely in the woefully misguided “Better” camp. They are true believers in the Illusion of Better, and the behavior of these people is often condescending, sometimes vicious, and in all cases, destructive.

These people are not making the world a better place.

On the other side are the people in the “Never Better” camp. They fully believe with every fiber in their being that they are never better than anyone else, while simultaneously loving themselves enough to know that no one else is better than them either.

Interestingly, all of the most well-adjusted, kindest, confident (not arrogant), and happiest people I know are all card-carrying members of the Never Better team. These people are making the world a better place by treating all of the people they encounter with kindness, dignity, and respect.

Never Better people are the best coworkers to work with, the best leaders to work for, the best neighbors to live next to, and the best friends that you’ll ever have.

Make no mistake, we need more people to join the “Never Better” team in 2016 and beyond.

If you’re not on the right team already, I hope you’re ready to make the switch today. The world needs you more than ever.

The End of Better

The Illusion of Better has hurt countless people since the beginning of time, and there’s no chance of creating a more positive world to work in and live in as long as it is allowed to exist.

So, let me speak directly to people who are keeping the “Illusion of Better” alive:

  • If you think that you’re better than the company janitor because you have a Master’s degree and she has her GED–you’re not better. Stop it.
  • If you think that you’re better than the people on “the other side of the tracks” because you live in a bigger house, make more money, drive a nicer car and live in a gated community–you’re not better. Stop it.
  • If you think that you’re better than your overweight coworker because you’re in perfect shape munching on dried kale all day, while she is happily treating herself to a burger and fries–you’re not better. Stop it.
  • If you think that you’re better than your wife because you’re bringing home a paycheck every two weeks, while she stays at home watching the kids–you’re not better. Stop it.
  • If you think that you’re better because you shop at Bloomingdale’s and Saks Fifth Avenue while your friend shops at Target–you’re not better. Stop it.
  • If you think that you’re a better parent solely because your kid can speak 3 languages fluently before she enters kindergarten, and your neighbor’s kid has a speech impediment and has trouble completing a sentence–you’re not a better parent. Stop it.
  • If you think that you’re better than another person because of your race, sexual orientation, political affiliation, religious choice (or any other meaningless reason floating around in your brain to elevate yourself over someone else)–you’re not better. Stop it.

A few quick words to those sorry, misguided souls: Get over yourself.

Different is not better. You are never better than anyone else.

Most importantly, if you read this entire blog post and you still deeply desire to be better than someone else, I have an idea that will be a win-win for everyone.

Why not choose to be better than the person you were yesterday?

If you did that one thing, and just that one thing, there’s no doubt that you will positively change the world.

And seriously, what could be better than that?

Your Turn

Have you ever dealt with someone who acted like he/she was “better” than you, either at work or anywhere else? Do you agree that the “Illusion of Better” is a destructive force? Either way, jump into the comments below and make your voice heard!

Shola

Shola

Founder of The Positivity Solution
Author, keynote speaker, and kindness extremist who is committed to changing the world by helping as many people as possible to live and work with more positivity.
Shola
Shola

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Comments

  1. Hi Shola, solid post, as usual. I’m behind this message, all the way, and hope more restaurant servers, janitors and other service people get treated with deserved kindness and respect. The only point I question is that “… deep down, in their most private moments, they know they’re not better than anyone.” I suppose this “better complex” might be an over-correction for extreme ordinariness in some people, but I have seen such unmitigated egocentricity over the years that I doubt it’s a universal explanation. We tell ourselves stories, and I believe some people really believe that their stuff doesn’t stink. When I fantasize about someday retiring, it’s merely to not have to deal with these losers anymore. Howie Milstein at the Institute to Stop Taking Yourself So Seriously!

    • Great point, Howie! If you’re talking about the unmitigated egocentricity that is bordering on narcissism, then I totally agree–those folks are incapable of the self-awareness to see themselves objectively. But I’ve also known a lot of people who pulled out the “Better Than” silliness due to being ravaged by a deep insecurity on a near-constant basis. Either way, I’m with you, my man–my dream is to deal with these people as little as I possibly can!

  2. Hi Shola,

    Indeed! I have learnt (the hard way) that being a card-carrying member of the ‘Never Better’camp is one of the hardest things to be, especially as the ‘other side’ have a penchant of singling you out for mis-treatment. Like you rightly pointed out, deep down in their core they’re really filled with self-loathing and bitterness, and are only out to shatter your confidence and ‘aura of light’ because they know they ain’t got what it takes to be ‘better’!

    I have also learnt, painfully, how to stay true to my ideals, ethics and values of treating everyone with kindness, dignity and respect without becoming a doormat or prey to those losers!

    Thank you.

    • Right on, Sandra! Isn’t it amazing how useful our values and ideals can be when dealing with people who try to act as if they’re better than us? Keep shining bright, and don’t let those people dim your light–no matter how much they may try!

  3. Thanks Shola, for a great post about an important topic. I truly believe a person’s character can be observed in their dealings with people that they do not have to be nice to. To me, gratuitous cruelty, snobbery, scorn, and hostility are all symptoms of serious character defects, such as narcissism. Regardless of the cause, whether excessive or insufficient self-esteem, the rude behavior is just a habit, that can be unlearned. It is not a fundamental part of personality, nor a “right” they are entitled to. It’s a bad habit, like belching in public, and just as uncouth. I don’t know how to get through to people like that, except to set a better example myself. Shola, I wish you & your family a holiday of fun & relaxation.

    • Donna, I absolutely love your insights! You are 100% spot on, as usual. Bad behavior of any kind can be unlearned (just like belching in public, which was a brilliant example), with the right motivation. I’ve realized in my 41 trips around the sun that I can’t change anyone, but I can hopefully help to raise the awareness of these people so that they can change on their own. Hopefully leading by example, and maybe this article, will help. Time will tell!

  4. Thank you for another valuable message, Shola! We are so fragile and broken as humans. This idea that someone is better than someone else comes from so many different influences, I think.

    Parents instill the ‘you’re better than others’ in their kids, thinking it will help them be strong and confident. Instead it makes them devalue others and bully. Or maybe I am giving parents too much credit in their motives?

    Look at the Stanford rape case… or the “Affluenza” kid… both of these are cases where young men committed heinous and violent acts under the belief that their lives mattered more than those they hurt. Where did they learn that?? I would certainly point to their parents as a root cause, followed by their peers.

    We all need to get back to the basic belief that we are all created equally (regardless of circumstance, economics, gender, etc) and should treat each other as such. If we could start there, we would make a huge difference to others.

    Thank you again for your powerful messages. I hope you enjoy a nice holiday weekend with your family!!!

    Hugs,

    Kathy

    • Oh man, Kathy–the two examples that you mentioned were perfect examples of how deeply damaging the “better than” complex can be. Just like you, I looked directly at the parents as the root cause of that toxic belief in those kids. And on the flip side, some of the best human beings who I have ever known were raised to believe that they weren’t better than anyone. And I completely agree–if we could start there, we could go a LONG way in healing our world 🙂

  5. I just wanto to say that you are right. I felt a big slap in my ego when I read this. Fortunatelly I am willing to change.

    • That’s great to hear, Edwin! If anything, you deserve a pat (not a slap this time) on the back, for having the self-awareness to change. Well done, my man.

  6. I work with a bunch of maniacs that think they are better than others. I promise to never catch that horrible disease.

  7. Icarus Was a Phoenix says:

    Dear Shola:

    When I first read this post in June, I knew I partially disagreed but didn’t want to write an “arrogant” response. After some deliberation, I submit the following for your consideration:

    Although people (should) all have equal human rights, we do not all have equal mental and physical abilities, nor do we all exert equal efforts. For example, compared to my sibling, we’re both good at A (albeit in somewhat different ways), but she’s exceedingly better at B, and I’m noticeably better at C. Compared to most of my colleagues, I’m definitely better at X and nominally better at Y, but almost all of them are significantly better at Z. My husband and I are both well above average at Q, but since he taught me most of what I know (and not everything he knows) about Q, he will always be better than me at Q.

    As someone who grew up in a middle-class/upper-middle-class neighborhood and elected to buy real estate in a lower-income area as an adult (so we could afford an antique house without breaking the bank, and also so we avoid having a chemically-strewn “lawn”), I admit that I struggle with the “better” issue a lot, especially since one of my parents raised me with the belief that class is less about money than behavior and character. We’re not especially materialistic people, so my “better” issues have less to do with possessions than with culture: for example, do I think I’m “better” (for regularly picking up neighborhood litter) than the people who throw it in the streets? Absolutely, because I was taught not to litter by the time I was five years old and have very little respect for adults who litter. When picking up litter and noticing the amount of junk-food debris, do I think I’m “better” than the people who eat junk food? Yes, especially since I’m a former junk-food user. Which leads me to my final point. . .

    Sometimes when people think of themselves as “better” than others (e.g. obese colleagues), they’re not so much comparing themselves to the obese colleagues as they are to former selves: when I think of myself as “better” than a particular obese colleague who does not have the most healthful eating habits (not due to economics; she often has lunches delivered, something I could not afford even if I wanted frequent restaurant food), I’m really comparing my current self to my former self of years ago, whose eating habits were sometimes healthful and sometimes horrible: in other words, I look at her and remind myself of a place in my own history to which I never want to return. When I look at her (even though I like her), I remind myself why my dietary habits involve the dreaded “permanent lifestyle change.”

  8. Icarus Was a Phoenix says:

    Dear Shola:

    Another topic related to the “better” issue is the excess of unnecessary competition in the USA.

    Many of us remember running toward a swimming pool, lake, or ocean, one of a small group of children. Sometimes we ran because we were hot or wanted to make a big splash, but too often we ran because a member of our group had tainted some of the fun by yelling, “Last one in is a rotten egg!” Who cares who jumps into the water last? If Juan or Jasmine wants to climb down the ladder into the pool instead of jumping in, why does it matter? If Jasper doesn’t know how to swim yet, who cares? Maybe he’ll learn later; maybe not. Today he needs an inner tube.

    When I was a young teenager, one of my friends (with whom I was walking side-by-side) actually boasted that she could walk faster because her legs were longer; she was also an inch taller. What was I supposed to say? “Sorry, shorter legs run on both sides of my family?” Do some people really care so much about these things that they feel compelled to mention them? A year or two later, I decided to remain silent when she developed minor acne and I didn’t.

    Competition has its place, but I wish we would reserve it for major events, not everyday living. Even with major events, it can take its toll. My competitive shame in early adolescence was the middle-school honor roll, which required a minimum GPA of 3.5: my sibling and two neighborhood friends always made it; my own cumulative GPA always hovered around 3.3-3.45. Privately, I cried in shame and frustration (as an adult I would eventually understand that I am not an “auditory/sequential” learner, the predominant instruction method in traditional schools). Unlike the middle school, our high school had a “B” honor roll for students in the 3.0-3.49 GPA range, but for me, this was not an honor because it was an easy accomplishment, and also because it was a minimum parental expectation.

    Several years ago, I read about a young teenager who loved to ride horses. She took equestrian lessons with at least average success, but whenever she competed, she experienced performance anxiety and scored poorly. After several unpleasant competitions, she asked her parents if she could continue taking lessons to improve her equestrian skills, but stop competing. Her parents said yes.

    We need more parents who encourage children to develop skills for a child’s own enjoyment and sense of accomplishment, not just for awards and recognition.

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