I’ve found myself talking about this in blog comments a lot, lately, and with friends, too. I think it bears a bit of probing, because I remain absolutely astounded at the number of otherwise kind and intelligent people who just Do Not Get It.
The theory is this: There are no Hardship Olympics. Nobody wins for having it worse than everybody else. There is no honor and glory in that which sucks. Any sort of one-up-manship that happens in the discussion of difficulty is a dick move, because no one wins and it’s not a competition.
Furthermore, the fact that the world is full of tragedy—always, actually, though seemingly moreso right now—does not mean that if you personally didn’t lose your home, family, and pet chinchilla in a tsunami that your struggles don’t matter or somehow aren’t hard. I mean, sure, if someone is sitting there moaning about their hangnail, I get how that might be kind of trying. But I really think Plato said it best: Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.
So what does a friend in battle need from you?
Do they need a reminder that other people have it worse? Is that helpful?
Again, if they’re crying over a hangnail, I guess… maybe. Though who the heck knows, maybe they’re crying over that hangnail because the last time they had a hangnail their parents died in a fire. I DON’T KNOW. And probably neither do you.
I know I can’t speak for anyone else. I don’t pretend to. All I can tell you is that FOR ME nothing makes me feel more alone and unsupported than Hardship Olympics bait. Because SOMEONE ELSE HAS IT WORSE!
I’m aware that lots of people have it WAY worse. I don’t think that by experiencing the emotions that organically develop from, say, having one kid in agony with now-coming-up-on-four-years of undiagnosed medical misery and another kid who I genuinely do not know will ever live a “normal” independent life and expressing my pain and frustration therein that I am somehow ignoring every other needy person in the world and declaring my pain the Ultimate Gold Medal Winner Of Suck. All I am doing is saying, “Hey, I’m finding my particular battle hard today.”
So if you’re my friend, I would hope that would be okay with you.
If it’s not, feel free to ignore me if you find it grating. Develop a pressing need to go wash your cat or take a call or whatever. I get it. We don’t all love everything everybody (even sometimes—or maybe especially—people we love) does all the time. No biggie. Maybe remind yourself I’m not doing it to personally aggravate you or because I’m completely blind to the entire world, but because I’m having a hard time.
But the minute you feel the need to remind me that other people have real problems, you know, way worse than mine, well that actually DOES remind me of something. It reminds me that you’re right, one of us is not very good at being compassionate. (Hint: It’s not me.)
Telling someone to remember the people who have it worse isn’t an attempt to help them buck up. It’s code for “you are not entitled to your feelings, and P.S. I’m a better person than you.” It doesn’t help. It’s more honest to just kick someone when they’re down, frankly. Then you could throw your arms in the air and scream “VICTORY!” and feel as superior as you want, right out in the open!
No one wins at the Hardship Olympics. So for the love of God, please stop trying to make it a competition.