I went grocery shopping the other day and found myself trying to decide what kind of butter I wanted to purchase. As I looked at various options available, I compared the different products and focused on the nutritional information label to help me make my decision.
As I drove home from that grocery run an interesting thought presented itself. I realized that my purchasing process had begun with the observation of the packaging and branding and ended with my assessment of each product’s unique values.
The implication being from my initial survey of the many options to my concluding selection of the one option, it was the comparison of products that informed my decision making process. Which is to say, I couldn’t make a decision without evaluating one product in relationship to others.
It seems to me that this is a small signification of a large aspect of our consumer culture; how the decisions most of us make when consuming goods or services are predominantly informed by our comparison of the many and diverse goods or services available to us.
For example, we choose to purchase an iPhone or Samsung Galaxy not because they are the only two phones we have ever seen, but because we have seen all the other mobile phones and we think their look, features, and what their brand represents can't stack up against the iPhone or the Galaxy.
For example, we choose to purchase a Smart Car because we see the gas burning Ford Truck blazing down the street and shake our heads in scorn (or we purchase the Ford because we think the Smart Car looks like 24 clowns should emerge from it once it’s parked).
In a culture where options proliferate and singularity is buried deep within the noise and the overstocked shelves, that culture will become a culture of comparison. It will not be able to make a decision without comparing one thing to another thing.
In the realm of consumerism, this may not necessarily be harmful and is actually an effective marketing technique (i.e. playing your brand off and against other brands).
But in the realm of the human psyche and spirit, this aspect of our culture could be incredibly harmful. When comparison is engrained in us by our consumer culture—literally assaulting our senses—it is entirely possible that we cannot evaluate people and their work apart from comparing them to each other.
I find myself wondering, then, what our culture would look like if we evaluated people and their work as individuals with unique, singular, values, as opposed to, always comparing them to the unique values of others?
I enjoy the butter I bought, I guess. But now I feel bad for all the other butters I didn't choose. Because they are unique and have value too. They just didn't make the cut—or slice?— after I played the comparison game.