Bits of Life Missed Worth Exploring

Our Misuse of the Word “Better”


We use the word “better” as a destination. A place to be, such as a goal we are trying to reach. “This is why we have to do this. It will make things better” someone tells us. Other times we use it for reassurance. To calm us or give us hope. “Things will get better” we often say when there is no clear path in front of us.

When describing “better” as a goal we are misusing it. “Better” is a word that is used for comparison to something. To make a comparison you need to define what metric or aspect of a situation you will focus on. Without describing what you will compare, you have less chance to realize any significant improvement. No focus, no results.

Why do you need to make explicit the comparison? Because in most situations there can be more than one metric you could use to compare what is a “better state” than where you are right now. Much like the graph in the picture above, you could look at things along the x-axis, the y-axis, or even the z-axis.

Let’s look at an example. If you are operating a school and are responsible for its budget, you might say “we will make our budget or finances better”. Does this mean you are going to add more line items to break down expenses further so you could see them in your financial reports? Reduce expenses? Or does this mean you are going to add two fundraising events to bring more revenue to balance the budget? Enroll more children to bring in more tuition revenue. Reporting, expenses, donations, or enrollment are different measures or factors to consider when trying to figure out what “better” means.

With respect to cooking, you might say “I am going to make this dish again better”. Does that mean you are going to change the ingredients slightly for better taste? Or serve it with a different side dish that will bring out more flavor? Cook it longer? Marinate it first this time? Will we look at ingredients, amounts, combinations of food, cooking time, or preparation rituals to explain how we will make things “better”?

Being specific in what you mean by “better”, gives us a much better understanding of the path you are proposing to get there. Both for yourself and others. Hoping to slow us down, just a little bit, to think through the different ways we can make something “better” before deciding on our best path to get there. This also commits us to this path, once decided, giving us a much clearer idea of what our next steps need to be to get there.

Bits of Life Missed Worth Exploring


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