Forget all your #firstworldproblems

opinion
July 5, 2012
This article was published more than 2 years ago.
Est. Reading Time: 3 minutes

I’m glad that you realize how lucky you probably are. You probably slept in a comfortable bed last night, securely protected by a roof and at least four walls. You probably

woke up this morning and decided to eat breakfast. You probably have no reason to beg, steal, fight or hide today. The only thing you have to run from is your love handles. This is life in a ‘first-world’ country.

Here in heaven, most of our problems are self-invented. It’s not as if people here are more happy than they are anywhere else. After all, humans evolved to suffer. Blessed and doomed by our ability to envision the past and the future, we are often either depressed about the former or anxious about the latter. Wherever humans exist, they will create problems for themselves. They will create reasons to be dissatisfied.

Yet most of us are generally aware of our good fortune. On some level, there is a vague recognition that we’re ‘better off’ than the people facing the atrocities of the ‘third world’. It’s good that we can appreciate the pettiness of most of our struggles, but I’m a bit disconcerted when I hear the phrase “first-world problems.”

It began as a light-hearted mockery of our trivialities, and in this sense it was a fairly harmless trend, maybe even a useful one. But now it has turned into a running joke, and I can’t keep up any more. I think it goes beyond the fact that it’s now just the standard tagline for a whine.

What most people mean when they say it is that “less privileged people wouldn’t be bothered by this,” but all I hear is “only someone as privileged as me could ever be bothered by this.” I think that’s unfair. Can we assume that we’re the only people who are bothered by things like a slow Internet connection or being late for work? Have we been to these ‘third-world’ places, spoken to the people there, and observed this for ourselves? I’m not saying that I have. I’ve barely ventured out of Ontario. But I don’t use this phrase, because to me, it feels presumptuous and disrespectful.

I see it as being roughly analogous to the idea of heteronormativity. For the most part, there is no malice involved. There is no real purpose to it. It’s just an attitude that’s ingrained into a culture where some can relate and some cannot. Now, on a worldwide scale, people who live in developing countries are hardly a minority, but here in North America, it would be difficult to hear them if they spoke up. We are totally separated and have no real reasons to keep our ears perked.

But that doesn’t mean that they can’t hear us. Especially with the advent of Internet memes, our in-jokes trickle out into the ears of the people that we’re casually referencing when we use a phrase like “first-world problems.” Like heteronormativity, it is an attitude that some might assume is harmless, but by which others are probably quite offended.

We should stop claiming petty issues for our own. We shouldn’t have to categorize problems just to appreciate the fact that things could be worse. Let’s stop trying to arrange our issues on a sliding scale of misery, and just accept that sometimes life is challenging.

Maybe the one good thing about the phrase “first-world problems” is that it has made it fashionable to keep our lives in perspective, which is a difficult task made easier. I try to give myself a good slap whenever I begrudge the effort it takes to walk across the street to buy groceries. I just wish the phrase would be used more sparingly, if only because all jokes get old eventually.

Anyways, my fingers are tired from all this typing. #firstworld… wait, never mind.

By David Laing

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