Huckleberry Friend

We're after the same…


This is not me. (Also, this look cannot be achieved with a blow dryer.)

Wells Fargo opened three phony accounts in my name, my Samsung exploded, and, to top it off, my salon’s now charging extra to blow dry my hair. Seriously, when I balked at the upcharge, my stylist handed me a Super Solano and told me to get to it.


These are First World problems.


But they’re still—problems, little (or big) things that irritate. And I’m here to say I’m sick of apologizing for so-called First World problems.


I know an overheated android is not the same as a house burnt down. I didn’t deliver a sad sonnet about it, I just mentioned it over lunch, and—bam!—you First World problem-ed me into shamed silence. The essence of what you’re saying is okay—practicing perspective is good. But casually issued, sarcastic scoldings—not so good. Last time I checked, perspective’s an individual thing, something to work on, like posture or forgiveness.


No one likes to be nagged to sit up straight.


I also don’t enjoy feeling compelled to confess that my issues are First World, adding disqualifiers for comments about lousy weather or bad customer service. Must I prove, over and over, my empathy for humankind’s struggles by belittling my small talk?


It’s small talk.


First World problem guilt, I suspect, is symptomatic of our shame-on-you society. Finger pointing’s a strange phenomenon in a culture where, it seems, almost anything goes. But here we are, with Everyman playing hall monitor.


For reals: I heard Guy A calling Guy B an a—hole for failing to hold open the door at Chipotle for a stream of folks coming in. It looked to me hapless Guy B was simply trying to duck out of the way with his take-out burrito intact, navigating both the confusion of an oncoming mob and the crazy long line blocking the doorway. The poor sap, probably a habitual door-holder, looked shocked, then horrified, like he wanted to sink into the sidewalk.


Who’s the real a—hole here, alpha Guy A or tail-between-his-legs Guy B?


Hey, that’s a First World problem is like so many other things in our culture: subtly divisive. It’s You vs. Me keeping score in a twisted contest—a battle for the Most Meaningful Misery trophy. Clever grownups, we’ve dreamed up so many faddish, witty ways to say what we were expressly taught not to say in the sandbox days: So what? Here’s a quarter—call someone who cares. My daddy is stronger than your daddy.


Lately, I’ve noticed how First World guilt has reached new heights, or depths. Follow me down this non-hypothetical trail: I have a 14-year-old autistic daughter. The day-in, day-out of caregiving can be taxing. (Can you say poop-smearing?) But I’ve got (First World) resources galore: great schools, decent health insurance, Clorox wipes. It’s not like we’re doing autism in rural Kenya, for heaven’s sake. Therefore, I shouldn’t a) confide sadness or angst or fear about the situation; b) continue to seek solutions c) feel anything at all, really. At times I trick myself into believing a, b and c—and d-z. It’s true, autism in America is—in many ways, I’m certain—easier than autism in Africa. But that doesn’t mean the hardship’s all in my head.


And what if it is? (It isn’t.) It’s my head. I was born into a certain family in a certain birth order in a specific culture learning to talk and think in a language I didn’t choose. I have certain peculiarities and sensitivities, likes and aversions, shortcomings and strengths. Pretty much, I’m doing the best I can with what I’ve got.


I’ll bet you are, too.


Which is not say I’m above an eye-roll at the friend moaning about how grueling it is to pick backsplash tile for the kitchen she’s choosing to remodel, especially when I’ve just come from, say, the pediatric neurologist’s office. In these cases, I try to remember how little things can get under my skin, too—especially when little things are piled on top of big things or scary things or things I can’t control.


Who hasn’t fixated over backsplash tile, in one form or another? Wait, I know: people living in tents or huts or under bridges. And yet: Do not we all bleed when we get a paper cut? I ask you, does not a stubbed toe sting—at least momentarily—whether or not you’ve been through cancer or labor or hot waxing?

I’m vulnerable when I’m bleeding or burdened or broken. Still, cry me a river, you say, with your First World problems. So let me get this straight: You are not wasting your compassion on me but instead are saving it for folks somewhere whom you’ll never meet or maybe give a thought to—except to use their Second or Third World issues to mock mine?


You big baby, like you’ve never howled over a stubbed toe or cried when your financial institution screwed you over.

Note: A version of this article also appeared in the Huffington Post on November 2.

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3 thoughts on “So What If My Problems Are First World? Yours Are Too.

  1. I totally get that. I find this esp on Facebook – so mixed up – it’s either all memes about ‘love yourself by treating yourself outrageously well’ and ‘how dare you care for yourself or want anything or suffer anything because the rest of the world is so beyond the pale bad compared to your wonderful luxurious life’ … makes me ‘crazy’ as they say. I read this great book (it’s deep) called letters to his family and this quote about how we are all so overburdened I think can help right the shame-game that the West is having with themselves:


  2. I super agree. You said it so well. And this: “First World problem guilt, I suspect, is symptomatic of our shame-on-you society.” Wow, yes. I have not thought about that, but you are so right.


    1. Anonymous says:

      Reminds me of a fine lady who fell in the unlucky category of one of the worst cases of multiple sclerosis. She couldn’t walk, had trouble moving and talking, but always wanted to hear what my life was like — the good and the bad —- and she truly empathized with the minor problems in my life. She is one of my heroes. Laura, you know exactly who I am talking about.


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