Saturday, January 27, 2018

It Could Always Be Worse. Yeah. Whatever

Recently I was talking to someone who's having a difficult time in life.

The person said something along the lines of, It could always be worse.

I wondered. Does saying or thinking that make the person feel better about things?

It usually doesn't make me feel better.  In fact, I think it makes me feel worse.

The first thing is my selfishness and competitiveness.  If I'm having a pity party, I certainly don't want someone else's worse story raining on my parade. Fuck that.

The second thing is, if I think of worse things, I'm likely going to become terrified.

Let's say I'm worried that someone in my family has come down with the stomach flu. That's a major cause for a pity party for me, because I have a vomit phobia.  Being reminded that other families have to deal with worse cancer isn't helpful, because then I might start thinking, shit! We could get cancer one day.

All that being said, I understand people complaining about their lives and then saying things like, It could be worse. It's kind of polite and decent.  It lets other people know that you have perspective.  Then again, I probably find it more tolerable when the person has problems I see as...small.  For example, they broke their toe.  If they whined on and on about that and didn't ever give a, It could be worse, then I might think they have a sense of entitlement when it comes to the universe.

It's fine too if people say it with bigger long as they're not feeling guilty about having some self-pity.  I feel sometimes we get this idea that unless our problems are the worst of the worst, we have no right to complain. But there is almost always going to be someone who has it worse than us.

What gets to me much more than people comparing tragedies to put their own lives in perspective is when people do it to others.  When I see it done online, I pretty much hate the person immediately.

I saw it with the Asiz Ansari drama. There were people who complained that Grace's story was a slap in the face to people who had been raped.  How can she complain about a bad date when other people have had it so much worse?  For example, someone might have been harrassed every day at work. Someone might have lost their job because of a predator. Someone might have been raped by the coworker they once had a crush on.  Okay. But then do those people have a right to complain?  Might their dramas be a slap in the face to women who have been kidnapped; then violently raped, stabbed, mutilated, etc.

Oh and some people bitched about Grace, because how dare her story take away from the story of Larry Nasser's victims.  But then if we're going to go there, couldn't we dismiss the Nasser and  stories by saying their ordeal wasn't as bad as what the Turpin children experienced?  I mean being touched by a doctor is bad, but how about living your whole childhood in chains, not being able to take showers, being starved to death, etc.

Whether someone's problem is big, bigger, or biggest, they have a right to feel sorry for themselves; they have a right to want sympathy for others; they have a right to speak out about what has happened to them.

Now, as I've said in an earlier post, I'm not in line with Minnie Driver's and Alyssa Milano's idea that all problems are equal and shouldn't be compared.  There IS a difference between an old man giving someone a quick pat on the butt as they get a photo taken together and someone tying up a woman, raping her, and then attempting to murder her.  There's a difference between what Harvey Weinstein did and what Al Franken did.  There's a difference between stage one breast cancer and stage four pancreatic cancer.  There's a difference between having a child who's missing a hand and having a child who is severely mentally and physically disabled.

I'm having fun coming up with examples here. Should I keep on going?

No. I probably shouldn't.

Instead I'll say that putting problems into perspective shouldn't be about denying people sympathy or trying to get them to shut up all together.  The only reason we need to have distinguished levels is for treatment and punishment.

A broken foot is going to need much different treatment than a traumatic brain injury.

Harvey Weinstein and Larry Nasser need to be in prison. Al Franken should have probably not resigned. Aziz Ansari has endured a huge amount of public humiliation, and personally, I feel that was more than enough punishment for what he did.

But for all the women hurt by these men, it is not up to me or anyone to judge how much they should be hurting.

For anyone who feels their high-level problems gives them the right to be dismissive and bitchy about other people's smaller problems?  Well, I hope they realize that they too need to put their problems in perspective. I hope Karma comes at them in the form of a dismissive, bitchy person who has even worse problems.  (Well, and I guess karma would then have to come for that third person as well.  It could keep going to infinity.....)

For all of us in that special, elite club of having problems, I hope we use putting-things-in-perspective only when it truly does make us feel better, or we're trying to be polite.  I feel too often, though, that we use it to appease the judgmental people who've burrowed in our heads—the ones who've used shame and manipulation to make us feel we're not important enough, and that our problems are too small to matter.

And every time we try to put things in perspective by reminding ourselves that it could be worse, I think, on balance, we should remind ourselves that it could be better. Yes. Not getting the necklace you want for Christmas is a much smaller problem than not having enough money to feed your children. But you're much less fortunate than the family who has a mansion with an indoor swimming pool and travels the world on a private jet.  But hey....even THAT family has their problems, and even they have a right to cry. 

Edited to add: This post was probably, more than anything else, a lecture to myself.  Because I too often let guilt seep into my pity parties.  So I think I'm actually going to try to do what I said above. Every time I think about how it could be worse, I'm going to force myself to also think about how it could be better. I guess it could also work the other way.  Every time we're feeling envious of people who have it better, we should remind ourselves of those who have it worse than us. For example. I'm often envious of people who travel more than I do, so I should always remind myself of those who don't get to travel at all.  I'm also envious of people who've had success with their writing. Unfortunately, there are not many people who have it worse than me.  I'm pretty much at the bottom there.  I mean I'm not ALONE at the bottom, but I am at the bottom.

 Also, I do sometimes judge people for complaining too much about their lives. Hopefully, I usually do this secretly.  But anyway....when I find myself being intolerant of someone's self-pity and want to shout out them, don't you know other people have it worse!!! I'll remind myself that there are also people who have it better and easier.