Studying English grammar, we struggle with comparative and superlative forms of adjectives. Canonical forms are simple: Large, larger, largest; big, bigger, biggest. Some words may pause a little more challenge in spelling – like pretty, prettier, and prettiest. For some adjective we add ‘more’ and ‘most’: generous, more generous, and most generous. We have to memorise non-canonical forms: good, better, best. Cane came on knuckles if we said bad, badder, and baddest. We also confuse worse, worser, and worsest as three forms of an adjective. Bad confusion.
Endless comparison of attributes of people, place, things, notions and events stayed with us as a culture even after we mastered its grammatical aspects.
Which of the following statements would make you proud and happy?
- My son is good in studies.
- In studies, my son is better than his friends.
- In studies, my son is the best in his class.
Most people like to state the third; if not, the second. Considering the first? Seldom occurs.
When you say that your child is better than his friends, it is implicit that his friends are worse than him. The third statement above can be retold that every other classmate of his is worse than your son. Superlative becomes comparative. Does it make your son good? Being better than his friends and being best in the class does not necessarily mean that he is good in studies. He may be the best in the class and still not be good enough.
It is important that we be good at something; not that someone else is worse than us.
To a query “how are you?” if we respond with “better” as answer, it makes the questioners think that we have not been well. If I say that I have done better in exam this time, I may convey that my performance was not good enough last time. If the answer is simple “good” that would be good.
“Not bad” does not make a thing good. If you mean good and mean “good” say so. If something is “not tasty” does not mean that it tastes bad. We need to consider several shades between what is good and what is bad. We can have neutral opinion.
For vanity, some parents make a false claim their child is better than others. This could be depressing for the child as if she is bringing shame to the parents by being what she is and the need for the parents to lie. If the parents cannot accept a child for what he or she is, they emotionally disown the child; at least they create some emotional distance.
Some people ever search for someone or something better than what is presented as good – as if to prove that it is not good enough.
“I had a wonderful time during my holidays in Ooty. What a lovely place!”
Someone says, “Kashmir is more beautiful than Ooty. In 1989 we had a wonderful time there.”
Yet another says, “Switzerland is superior! You should see the place.”
Beauty of Ooty does not diminish from what it is because there are places considered more beautiful. Each place would be beautiful in its own way. Good does not become worse because a better one comes up. If a child scores more than yours, it does not mean that your child has become worse than what she was. Don’t ask “how could that girl score more than you?” and make your child hate the other girl for scoring better. Don’t make her hate the good for being good; let her be good in her own right. Don’t drive the competition ugly. If your neighbour builds a modern comfortable house, yours does not become worse than what it has been. If he buys a new car, your old faithful will still continue to serve as it has been.
“I suffered with viral fever and was hospitalised for a couple of days. It took a week to recover.”
“It is nothing. When I was young, I was in hospital for two full weeks, down with typhoid. It took me a whole year to recover. My mother still shudders thinking of my suffering then.”
Even in misery, we want to outdo other.
If you tell me that you had some good time, I can prove that I had better time. If you show that you suffered, I can recollect that I suffered worse. If your husband is good, mine is better and if you recount how inconsiderate he is, mine can outshine yours in that too. If your child is bright, mine is brighter; if yours is naughty or fussy, mine is naughtier and fussier – making her eat a morsel of food is Herculean task, I bet you can’t handle for a day; it requires a person with my capability; someone better than you. If your boss is rude mine is a villain; if yours is good, mine is an angel. If your deputies are non-cooperative, mine are riotous idiots.
I don’t tolerate you being better than me or worse than me. Also, I cannot accept you as my equal, for sure. We dwell in subjective wellbeing.
Indian languages do not have comparative and superlative forms. We have to work hard to create these expressions. Let us leave out that mostly counter-productive task and be simply good and appreciative of things for what they are.
We choose to be miserable by making wrong comparisons. If we find someone better than us, let us choose to be inspired instead of feeling inferior and miserable.
“Never mind what others do; do better than yourself, beat your own record from day to day, and you are a success”. – William J.H. Boetcker