You’re Not Helping

This is going to be a complaining post, and related to the one about “enjoying every minute because they grow up so fast.” My apologies in advance to people who don’t like complainers, because, you will not like this post. Nor will people who try to make complainers feel better by telling them how much worse things could be. Because, YOU’RE NOT HELPING.

Here’s the thing. When someone complains to you about their job or the traffic or their kids behaving badly or whatever, and you say to them, “Well, at least you have a job” or “Well, at least you can afford the gas to drive in that traffic” or “Well, at least you HAVE kids, some people can’t even get pregnant”…yeah, that isn’t helping. You are not making the person feel better by telling them how much worse it could be. All you have done is add a layer of guilt to whatever it was they were frustrated about. Is this person someone you like? If so, you have just made them feel worse instead of better. Congratulations. If you don’t like them? Then super congrats, because you have just been an asshole to them in a way that is somehow socially acceptable. But either way? You’re not helping.

Here’s another one: “That happens to lots of people, it’s just part of life.” Sure, car accidents and cancer and frustrating child behavior ARE part of life and they DO happen to lots of people. Does that make them not upsetting? You’re not helping.

And as much as I love the phrase for its snappy snarkiness, saying “first world problems” to someone complaining about their job or whatever is not helping either. See, here’s the thing: if I am an entitled asshole who is complaining about how the crew running my yacht were late and now I have missed happy hour in Monaco, you think it’s gonna make me a less entitled asshole to hear that that is a “first world problem”? Of course not, I am an entitled asshole. You’re not helping. If I am NOT an entitled asshole, then I am not complaining about something that is piddly to me. I am complaining about something that really is upsetting me. That children are starving in Africa does not mean I don’t get frustrated about my life sometimes. Reminding me that children are starving in Africa is not helping.

So, what do I want you to do instead? Well, if I were a magician and could wave a magic wand, I would make everyone just listen politely while the person complains and then say “Gee that’s too bad.” Consider “Gee that’s too bad” like hearing someone from the south say “Bless her heart.” It’s a polite way to say you don’t really care and change the subject. Is that helping either? No, but you know what? You’re not making it worse either.

Or, you know, you could say something that MIGHT help, like, “Are you looking for a new job? Because I know someone who is hiring” or “I know this sweet back road with no traffic, let me give you the directions” or “My kid did that too, you are not alone. You can survive this age by finding other moms going through it too.”