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Don’t Compare, But Do Evaluate. – Erik Kondo

Updated: Feb 5, 2023

a large number of handcycles in the front at a start of a ride.
Start of the annual Kelly Brush Foundation fundraiser ride.

We have all heard about the dangers of comparing ourselves to others. How we shouldn’t judge ourselves relative to what others can do. I agree. The act of “comparing” creates a zero-sum contest with a definite winner and loser. And if losing makes you feel bad about yourself, then you should not enter the contest.

That being said, “evaluating” is done for the purpose of gaining knowledge to the aid in further improvement.

In reference to spinal cord injury, if you know everything there is to know about what you are capable of doing now and also in the future, then evaluating serves no purpose. But, if you are like most people, evaluating what other people can and cannot do, and how they do it (or fail to do it) provides you with useful and actionable information.

An evaluation is a deconstruction of the mechanisms of how something works or how it happened. Without other people to learn from, you would have to do it all on your own. In fact, the result of what occurs when people with spinal cord injury are isolated from others like themselves are pretty clear. Their ability to perform advances, levels off, and then they stagnate at that level. It is more likely that they stagnate at a lower rather than a higher level of performance.

If someone can do something that you can’t do, it could be that they have more physical function that you. Or it could be that they have better technique than you. Maybe they have figured out something that you haven’t. Having a spinal cord injury means that the vast majority of people you encounter in life don’t function like you do. Humans learn from modeling other people’s behaviors – both good and bad.

While it is true that no two spinal cord injuries are exactly the same, that doesn’t mean that you can’t learn from someone with similar body function. But you must evaluate accurately in order to determine the effect of hidden bodily function. For example, it is very common to see lower level SCI demonstrate transfers on social media. A low level injury typically has significant core function and a light and flexible lower body with atrophied legs due to a lack of muscle spasms. This means that they have a high strength-to-weight ratio. Therefore, they can make difficult transfers look easy. They can use poor technique and still make the transfer work.

A high level SCI has nothing to gain from comparing themselves to a low level SCI. But they can still evaluate the person’s movements and technique to gain insight. How could you change the technique to create a similar result? Maybe you can, maybe you cannot. Evaluation is the key to the process of continual improvement and knowledge sharing.

Yes, you can be a static SCI island and never compare yourself to anyone else. Or you could be an SCI sponge and try to learn as much as you can from others. Incorporating what works for you, discarding what doesn’t, as you advance and evolve in your life.


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