Sunday, 25 June 2017

Comparisons and the downgrading of harm

It is human nature to compare and it is also common to want sympathy. As such it is common to compare our experiences or our situation to other situations, especially situations that evoke agreement and concern. If our friends and colleagues are sympathetic to, or affirm, a specific scenario, they are likely to affirm a related one.

Everyone acknowledges that Fred was unfairly dismissed from his job. If my dismissal had similarities to Fred's then there will be agreement that my dismissal was also unfair. If renal colic is seriously painful then my renal colic was very sore. If Jane had all her money stolen and struggles to pay the bills then others may empathetic with my privation.

Whether or not a comparison works (or should work) depends on the validity of it. Are similar circumstances involved? Similarities to Fred's dismissal may be largely superficial. An episode renal colic may have been treated with effective analgesia early on. Poverty may be due to laziness and frivolous spending.

So not all comparisons are valid. The problem with invalid comparisons can be greater. This can occur when we share an experience with our interlocutor. If I share a experience with the person making a comparison then I compare his experience to mine. Let's say that John, Steve and Fred all got fired. Steve thinks his situation was unfair and in talking to John, Steve likens his situation to Fred which was clearly unfair. But if John thinks that his own situation was predominantly his own fault, and John works with Steve and not Fred, then rather than agree that Steve was unfairly dismissed like Fred was, John is more likely to think that Fred probably deserved it.

Equating the serious with the less serious often does not make people think that the less serious is more serious than it is. Rather they downgrade their opinion of the more serious. If you ran so hard you had a serious cramp that felt like you had broken a bone, and say so, someone else may think that that cramp is all part of hard training and perhaps broken bones are not as painful as he had been led to believe.

This is the principle of extreme comparisons. When we compare the less extreme to the more extreme in order to invoke passion about the less extreme, our listeners may depreciate the more extreme. Further, subsequently less passion may be elicited for the more extreme.

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