I am usually a bit behind the times when it comes to new trends and memes on the internet and elsewhere - though I had both an earring and weight-lifting pants the season before they became fashionable, much to my chagrin. So when I recently learned of the new meme "first world problems" I had to ask my wife (who is invariably on top of these things, due to her high interest in pop-culture and her association with younger, much hipper than her and I, folks) what it meant. She was, as she always is, able to explain it. At the time, I thought it somewhat funny, but doubted that I would add the term to my vernacular. Little did I know.
Yesterday, on my daily commute, while avoiding listening to my commuting companions's stories of their daily lives, I could not help but overhear a young man complaining to his friend on the bus that the phone they gave him for a lender sucked in comparison to the one they were fixing for him, "Pshaaw, it doesn't even have any games on it. Worst thing I ever did." That started me thinking.
Then today, while standing in line at my local grocery store, I overheard the tale of a young cashier's "Worst Day of My Life!" Hearing that she had spent the morning in tears, sobbing until her parents finally intervened, I was about to offer some sort of platitude - her grief, even hours later was still palpable. Thinking that she had lost a loved one, or even a pet, I remembered my commitment to connecting with my fellow humans. So I hesitantly asked "May I ask what it was that happened?" There was no one behind me in line, and she obliged.
It seems that the early Christmas present that she received this morning (cue the irony) was a Wii game that she had been waiting "like months" for. When she tried to play it, it turned out that her sister "who she will never talk to again for this" had done something to her Wii and the game wouldn't play on her system. She spent the morning sobbing over this terrible tragedy, her life "totally over" until her parents found out what had happened. When they learned of the atrocity that had been committed against her, they did what all parents who want to instill a sense of proportionality do for their college aged children, they gave her the money to go and buy a new Wii. Wait though, the horror isn't over yet. Then she had to go "like all the way across town" in her car to buy a new Wii, and when she got it home, she still had to "set it up and all that stuff" so she didn't get to play the game she'd been "waiting forever for" until almost noon, and then she had to come to work at 5:00 so she only got "like a couple hours to play this awesome game."
I know, you need to grieve for her. Take some time. Get a tissue. Try some hot tea, I'll wait for you to come back - I've had time to let the horror of this situation settle, and I'll spend the time you are gone developing a plan to start an awareness raising campaign for these situations, maybe we can use ribbons.
Back already? Wow, you acclimatized quickly to that. You, my friend, are made of stern stuff. I applaud your courage and strength.
Wait... Seriously?????? Now, I love hyperbole as much as the next person, heck it may even be something I am too fond of, but there has to be a line. I know what the worst day of my life was, without the shadow of a doubt. If you can't say with certainty what yours was, then I am either very happy for you (because you don't have any real tragedy in your life yet) or very sorry to hear that (because your life has been a challenge that I can only hope I never have to go through) but either way, if the worst day you ever had was where you got both a new game and new game system, and the only bad thing was having to wait four hours (assuming she is an early riser) to play with your new toys, and that was bad enough to reduce you to sobbing tears - then you, young woman, have had too good a life thus far. That must be the longest sentence ever written. But it makes my point.
We, in North America, are some of the luckiest people on the planet. We live in an environment where many people, maybe even most, are able to have "first world problems" and all too often we forget just how lucky we are. Not everyone here has all those advantages of course, and poverty and homelessness are real problems here as well. But of the seventy million people who died of famine in the 20th century, approximately zero were North American. Only our few citizens over 100 years of age remember the last genocides here on North American soil (not that we're peaceful or treat each other with the dignity we're owed all the time) but the parents of this generation in many countries of Africa are still dealing with the consequences of their genocides, hell, some are still ongoing.
My staff are learning a new (to us) way of resolving the cases brought to us, via a Restorative Justice model - one very familiar to the Native people's of North America. One of our trainers is a highly respected international expert on Restorative Justice, one who has helped heal communities which are both victims and perpetrators of genocide. While I applaud the work she has done (and continues to do) it hit home yet another inequality we have, our rights violations are harassment and bullying, not mass murder and systematic rapes. Not that it isn't important to protect the rights of Canadians, but it puts the whole thing in perspective I think.
What's your point dammit, you ask? No, I didn't sit down to write this hoping to make anyone feel guilty - well, okay not only to make you feel guilty. I think it is important for us, as extremely privileged folks living where and how we live (and you are reading this, which means you have both a computer and an internet connection!), to remember when we hear of those in need, to lend a hand. The next time you think you can't help out yet another famine, drought or earthquake, the next time you decide that you don't have a spare ten dollars to donate to a worthy cause, ask yourself, "How many first world problems have I had this month?" If the answer is even one, then look at that bank balance one more time, and weigh the value of that ten dollars to you (a cappuccino and cinnamon bun at Starbucks, or maybe a beer and fries at your favorite pub) versus the value of that ten bucks to someone with no food or water (life instead of death, or maybe children able to play rather than starve).
I know that guilt sucks, and I hate to be the author of any, but if we don't help, who will?