Ingrained in all of us is the phrase:
“There’s a child dying right now of starvation in Africa, and you’re complaining about XYZ?”
Sometimes serious, sometimes a joke, this phrase is a necessity in the English language. Of course, it carries more than a grain of truth. We all know the incessant complainer, plagued every day by new and horribly traumatic emotional and physical pains: a sore back, a headache, a hard day. Throwing something about child slaves in Ghana or prostitutes in Southeast Asia (or even back home in the US, but that’s for a different day) in their face can be incredibly satisfying and necessary in some cases.
Honestly, we all have relatively easy lives compared to the starving, the homeless, the children dying of malaria and HIV across the globe. But that’s not how people’s minds work. We don’t have a hard day at work or go through a difficult time with money or marriage and instantly think to our fellow humans on the brink of death in the developing world. We compare ourselves to the people around us; it’s how human psychology works. Maybe it makes us selfish, but it’s not a conscious choice.
Hardship does not have to come in a dismal brown box of disease and despair. What to one person is a minor event could be a tragedy to another. We cannot assume that someone is not emotionally traumatized by an event we have shrugged off in the past. No two people react exactly the same to any situation, and that is what differentiates us all. So to tell another person that it’s “no big deal” or to “suck it up” is not only unhelpful, it’s probably wrong. Everyone struggles in different ways, and it’s unfair to compare others to ourselves, even subconsciously. We must make it a mindful choice to be sympathetic.
Maybe someone you know seems to have the easiest life on the planet. I go to a private school, where many kids are from extremely wealthy families. They seem to breeze through life, unaware of any problems. I built up a sort of resentment to these people, dismissing them as callous and shallow and inexperienced.
Then I got to know these people, and one of them lost a father last year; another’s little brother is in the hospital forever. One has diabetes and another has an abusive, alcoholic mother. Not only was I incredibly sorry for them, but I felt guilty and naïve: who was I to assume they led perfect lives, when they had harder lives than I do?
Even people without such obvious problems are troubled. I’ve met countless teens my age who feel useless, unloveable, used, broken, ignored, uncared for. It’s a first world problem, for sure, but it doesn’t make the problem obsolete. Depression and anxiety are very real and very serious conditions that people won’t often admit to having. Treat each person like they’ve experienced these feelings of unimportance, because I guarantee, everyone has felt this way.
In short, hardship is a subjective term. It means a lot of vastly different things to a lot of vastly different people. Everyone struggles with something, and no one has a perfect life. Before you pull the “starving in Africa” line, consider the depth of their emotional or physical trauma; more often than not, what someone needs is some genuine TLC.