Not too long ago I was having a playful argument with a coworker. Without giving details, each of us argued that we had more problems than the other.
"You don't want my life, everything's a disaster!"
"You think you have problems? Sit down, I'll tell you about mine!"
That sort of thing.
The truth is that she has her troubles, I'm sure, and I have mine. She struggles with things that aren't issues for me and I have some difficulties that she doesn't. We were both kidding around and we both knew it.
But some busybody other coworker had to jump in and "remind" us of the people who recently lost everything in the hurricane. She suggested that we both needed some perspective.
Neither the first woman nor I were specific about our problems. How could this third woman appear and berate us for not being thankful we didn't have problems as bad as people who lost their homes when she had no idea what we were even talking about?
When did we get to the point where we can't talk about anything being wrong without someone else throwing in our faces that someone else is worse off?
I know my problems are first world. I know that plenty of people are worse off than I am. It doesn't change the fact that there are things in my life, as there are in almost every one of your lives, dear readers, that are real and true problems.
Maybe you have this month's rent but next month will be a problem. Maybe you have some disconcerting symptoms and you're waiting for test results to see if you're sick. Maybe your spouse is about to lose his or her job. Maybe your child isn't well. Maybe your car just died and without it you can't get to work and if you can't get to work you'll lose your home.
Maybe, maybe, maybe.
The bottom line is that no one knows what is brewing behind the scenes. I can't look at any person and claim to know his or her struggles. And even if it seems like a person has everything he or she needs, that doesn't mean that there isn't something else suffering. The same goes for me.
This isn't some cryptic message designed to make you worry, nor do I intend to sound threatening and mean. I'm simply saying we don't always know what's going on with someone and it's not fair to assume we do.
I am thankful for all that I have. But I'm also allowed to worry about things, and to say that I'm having a tough time, without someone else suggesting that my problems don't meet the definition of real problems or aren't as severe as the problems of others. I shouldn't have to justify the validity of my worries to anyone, especially when I'm not even really complaining in the first place.
I think, by and large, we aren't all so self-absorbed as to think each of us is the only one with problems. But I also know that when each of us is faced with serious issues that threaten our personal security, those are the problems that are on our minds, first and foremost. We can't help others when we are no longer in a position to help ourselves. There is nothing wrong with self-preservation and there's nothing wrong with expressing concern or anger over the things that directly affect us.
All I ask is that you believe that I count my blessings. Trust that I know how lucky I am in some regards. Even the worst of my problems aren't as bad as some of the problems other people are facing, but it doesn't make them any less real for my family.
Let's have compassion for one another and not make them prove their thankfulness or the depth of their struggles. Let's stop accusing each other of not thinking enough about those less fortunate.