A recent post on Facebook, about a technology frustration, resulted in comments that contained the phrase, “first world problem,” as if that were an answer. Somehow, the comments are deriding the poster for using the technology we take for granted. Somehow, having “first world problems” has become an insult.
We live in the first world, so we have first world problems. They are not lesser problems because we live in the first world. They do not deny that there are other problems in the world. They do not deny that other problems are also serious.
The kind of comparison that makes only life and death problems serious makes life binary–either tragic or perfect. Most of life is a balance between a selection of small, happy moments and aggravations of varying degrees we struggle with.
“First world problem” scolding turns us into adrenaline junkies seeking either to inflate problems or our suffering to prove our problems are worthy. You see this in people who post endless tragedies to which they have no connection, but want to make sure that the suffering of animals, incest, injustice is their job to stoke constant outrage about. Those people also want you to share, even if it “just for an hour,” on your timeline. Sharing, of course, gives them the credit for unearthing this endless stream of pain and being “aware.” Trust me, pain-schleppers, we are aware. Always aware.
Just this morning I posted a small gripe on Facebook and got a bunch of “fixes.” I was just grouching, I didn’t need advice, instructions, or the assumption that I need to change my life when it hits a hiccup. It’s easy to think that the problem you post must be unmanageable, unsolvable, and only yours.
Not every problem needs to be fixed. Some need to be accepted and, like a grain of sand in an oyster, turned into a pearl. You can’t fix getting older, but you can adjust and do it graciously.
Some problems do need to be fixed. That may require work, invention, cleverness and trial-and-error. You won’t have time for Facebook if you are working hard on solving it.
Some problems can be fixed by avoiding them every time they show up. Including pain-surfing.
We live in the First World and our problems are First World problems. No shame in that. No special rewards, either. It’s just life.
—Quinn McDonald is a writer who knows the healing power of writing.