23. The Whole Thankful Thing.

Not too long ago I was having a playful argument with a coworker.  Without giving details, each of us argued that we had more problems than the other.

“You don’t want my life, everything’s a disaster!”

“You think you have problems?  Sit down, I’ll tell you about mine!”

That sort of thing.

The truth is that she has her troubles, I’m sure, and I have mine.  She struggles with things that aren’t issues for me and I have some difficulties that she doesn’t.  We were both kidding around and we both knew it.

But some busybody other coworker had to jump in and “remind” us of the people who recently lost everything in the hurricane.  She suggested that we both needed some perspective.

Neither the first woman nor I were specific about our problems.  How could this third woman appear and berate us for not being thankful we didn’t have problems as bad as people who lost their homes when she had no idea what we were even talking about?

When did we get to the point where we can’t talk about anything being wrong without someone else throwing in our faces that someone else is worse off?

I know my problems are first world.  I know that plenty of people are worse off than I am.  It doesn’t change the fact that there are things in my life, as there are in almost every one of your lives, dear readers, that are real and true problems.

Maybe you have this month’s rent but next month will be a problem.  Maybe you have some disconcerting symptoms and you’re waiting for test results to see if you’re sick.  Maybe your spouse is about to lose his or her job.  Maybe your child isn’t well.  Maybe your car just died and without it you can’t get to work and if you can’t get to work you’ll lose your home.

Maybe, maybe, maybe.

The bottom line is that no one knows what is brewing behind the scenes.  I can’t look at any person and claim to know his or her struggles.  And even if it seems like a person has everything he or she needs, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t something else suffering.  The same goes for me.

This isn’t some cryptic message designed to make you worry, nor do I intend to sound threatening and mean.  I’m simply saying we don’t always know what’s going on with someone and it’s not fair to assume we do.

I am thankful for all that I have.  But I’m also allowed to worry about things, and to say that I’m having a tough time, without someone else suggesting that my problems don’t meet the definition of real problems or aren’t as severe as the problems of others.  I shouldn’t have to justify the validity of my worries to anyone, especially when I’m not even really complaining in the first place.

I think, by and large, we aren’t all so self-absorbed as to think each of us is the only one with problems. But I also know that when each of us is faced with serious issues that threaten our personal security, those are the problems that are on our minds, first and foremost.  We can’t help others when we are no longer in a position to help ourselves.  There is nothing wrong with self-preservation and there’s nothing wrong with expressing concern or anger over the things that directly affect us.

All I ask is that you believe that I count my blessings.  Trust that I know how lucky I am in some regards.  Even the worst of my problems aren’t as bad as some of the problems other people are facing, but it doesn’t make them any less real for my family.

Let’s have compassion for one another and not make them prove their thankfulness or the depth of their struggles.  Let’s stop accusing each other of not thinking enough about those less fortunate.

10 Responses to “23. The Whole Thankful Thing.”

  1. Kianwi says:

    The thing is, if you are in the comparison game, there is always someone who is worse off. There are people far worse off than the victims of the hurricane. And on it goes. Of course people are going to focus on their own problems, because those are the problems they know. I would have been so annoyed as well! Even if you were genuinely complaining, that woman had no right to step in and say that.

  2. Larks says:

    I hear you. I’m all for perspective checks when people are straight up freaking out about the small stuff. I recently followed a page war where two factions of actual adults were getting downright post-your-SSN-on-the-internet hostile with each over whether or not sleep training was a good thing for six month olds. Threatening violence and calling Child Protective Services and all kinds of craziness. I wanted to scruff them all and be like, “Look. There are MILLIONS OF STARVING CHILDREN in the world. This is sleep training. So seriously get some perspective. Go sit on the time out mat until you calm the fuck down. One minute for every year of age. See you in 45 minutes, e-yeller.”

    But I don’t like when perspective checks are used as a means of silencing people. Everyone is entitled to have angst about their troubles and everyone has troubles be it sleep training a six month old or tight finances or health concerns or whatever. It starts to become a little Stepford-esk when people feel they have to deny their lives have downsides. Your co-worker’s comments would have irked me too.

    • That’s just it – there are almost always people elsewhere who have a tragedy happening. By saying we can only complain about the absolute worst thing in the world is outrageous and unrealistic. But yes, if someone is complaining about a paper cut as if they just lost an arm, perspective check, sure. That wasn’t the case here.

  3. My first-world problems include my coffee getting cold while I still want to be drinking it, my baseball teams not winning and the ever-present problem of what to make for dinner! But of course we’re all aware of the pains and agonies of the world. How annoying that your coworker thinks so little of you! Jeez.

    • I think you nailed it – the implication that we weren’t aware of greater suffering than our own was really insulting. She doesn’t know me from a can of paint, she had no right to say I wasn’t thinking enough about others! And cold coffee is the worst. The absolute worst! What’s that you say? Some people don’t even have clean water to drink. Oh… my bad.. I had no idea 😉

  4. Yes! I get this. Perspective can only really be appreciated when it comes on your own, not some nosy body butting in. Everyone has problems and it’s not fair to minimize them just because someone somewhere in the world has it worse. I’m with you!

    • Thank you, I’m glad I’m not alone in this!! I also don’t believe in minimizing the problems of others when I don’t know what they even are! If I was complaining about my cleaning lady not showing up for my 20 bedroom mansion, I could maybe see pointing out the homeless problem. But that wasn’t the case. It was just annoying to be accused of not being sympathetic.

  5. Jack says:

    At the end of the day we all have to deal with our problems. There are always going to be people who have a harder time than we do, but that doesn’t make our problems go away.

    I don’t know why some people feel the need to compare.

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