In order to get this post right, I need to clarify something up front.
In modern English, we are not precise enough in our verbiage, and this causes us problems. The word ‘good’ is used to describe things ranging from quality to effectiveness to mood to morality. The problem is that this word is used so generally that when using it for one thing, people can assume another thing is implied. This is muddying the conversation. So let’s be more precise.
Now I need to explain the difference between relative and absolute references.
A relative reference is always in relation to something else. An example would be: That item is two shelves below the top shelf. Note the preposition ‘below’, indicating the relationship.
Other ways we use relative references: Better/Worse, Higher/Lower, etc.
Absolute referencing is unique. There are no duplicates, and comparison is not required. One example of this is a mailing address. Many are similar, but no two are the same, and while they can relate, they don’t have to.
So why does this matter at all?
Because people will use one to try and claim the value of the other. Sales people do this all the time. They’ll tell you all about how their product is better, but they might fall short on how it will meet your needs. Or they will flip it if their product isn’t better. Knowing both ways of looking at it makes you a smarter consumer.
Politicians will use statistics to soon something any way they want. Understanding the value, or lack of value, can help you cut through the spin.
For instance, one politician might claim to be tougher on crime than their opponent. And they may be right. But that doesn’t make them effective against crime. They can be relatively tougher and still be inadequate.
Challenge: Recognize when someone is using absolute or relative referencing, and try to weed out any assumptions about one being the other.