I was given a book as a teen and there was a chapter in it that talked about experience validity, and why your reality is authentic. Although the chapter sticks out vividly in my mind, I can’t for the life of me remember what book this is (desperately hoping someone can tell me so I can give it the props it deserves). It gave the example that if you were in the emergency room with a broken ankle, that sucks. If someone is brought in next to you who was just shot 9 times, that sucks too. You might say that sucks more and you’d much rather have the broken ankle. It does not, however, make your ankle hurt any less. The pain you are experiencing is still real and the problem still requires treatment. The hospital staff would not be likely to tell you that you can’t have any pain medication because your ailment isn’t as bad as the guy next to you, so clearly you can just suck it up. Your family would not likely tell you not to complain.
I found this example quite poignant, and relative to our lives today. We are told as children to eat because there are starving kids out there who would do anything for our meal. A friend vents to us that they can’t stand listening to other people talk about their problems because they have no idea how good they have it, and thus should have no reason to be frustrated. Our issues in a first world country are often discounted as petty or frivolous in light of the suffering experienced in other parts of the world. We are taught that if we feel anything except constant and unwavering gratitude for our lives and every situation that comes our way, we are selfish and naïve.
There is some truth to this, of course. There’s importance in recognizing our station in life. There’s value in evaluating our concerns and determining if they’re fleeting or a bit premature. There is an utmost necessity in understanding what is going on around us and around the globe, and a responsibility to speak out against injustice. Sometimes, having a grasp on another’s situation can help us reframe our own. There’s no harm in that, and definitely no harm in choosing to live your life with a bit more gratitude.
Where there is harm, however, is in dismissing anyone else’s concerns as invalid, simply because you can’t relate or find them petty. A person’s reality is valid, simply because it is theirs. There are always going to be people who we perceive to be worse off. There are always going to be people who we perceive to be better off. The key is that it is just that: perception. You don’t walk in anyone else’s shoes and are thus in no place to determine that anyone else’s challenges are insignificant. Having my husband come home late 5 nights in a week is super frustrating, even though I know many parents are doing it solo all of the time. Losing my iPhone at the mall is a loss, even if I’m aware of the massive loss of life happening in Gaza. Burning my supper is really unfortunate, even if I know I’m lucky to have food to eat at all. I can acknowledge the situations of those around me without detracting from my own, and I’m not any less grateful for accepting my feelings as real and reasonable. They are real and reasonable, simply because they are mine.
This isn’t a permission slip to complain to your heart’s content, though. I mean, you can, I won’t stop you. Too much negativity tends to attract more of the same, however, and let’s be honest – we all know that person who just bitches all. of. the. time. I encourage you not to be that person. This is simply a reminder that we all walk at a different pace, on a different path and we need to accept that our journey holds different experiences, perspectives and emotions than one another. A request to stop invalidating the feelings of others because you have no authority to do so. To practice a bit more patience and understanding with one another. And to recognize that your, and everybody else’s, #firstworldproblems do truly exist.