Superiority: Are We Good Enough?

We’re quick to compare ourselves to others, often in an effort to demonstrate that we’re worthy of respect and recognition. Sometimes this desire is even stronger: we want confirmation that we’re superior in some important way — perhaps in our accomplishments, or in our values, or in our contributions to society. In our efforts to bolster our own positive self-appraisal, we may direct attention toward what we consider worst about other people and groups, painting them in as negative a light as possible.

At the extreme, some of those who see themselves as superior believe they’re entitled to stand above the norms and rules that govern the lives of everyone else. Their narcissistic belief that they’ve earned or have been chosen for privileged status finds expression in displays of arrogance, harsh judgments of others, and overreaching in an effort to control scarce resources. These behaviors and the convictions underlying them can be sources of conflict with those subjected to humiliating and dehumanizing affronts.

The judgments we make about our own worth — and the positive or negative qualities of other people — are often highly subjective and lack concrete evidence. As a result, these impressions are susceptible to manipulation by self-interested parties. Consider how favorably we react to being flattered or singled out as special, particularly by those in positions of authority and esteem. These same individuals can also persuade us to look down on others as undeserving of respect, and to view them with contempt and disgust instead.