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.”
10 thoughts on “You’re Not Helping”
I use “I get you. You’re not alone” all the time. Even when I’ve never had that particular issue…Why? Because I know what it’s like, even if I don’t know that specific situation. I empathize and I know deep down, we all just want to know we’re not alone.
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When I was 6 months pregnant the A/C in my rented condo broke down and started pumping hot air into my home instead of cold air… I live in Phoenix, AZ. My home was over 130 inside when I got home, candles were melting! I posted on FB about it and got a #firstworldproblems from an old co-worker in Oregon. It may be a first world problem when my A/C breaks, but it’s also a health risk when it’s the end of July, 110 outside and hotter inside. I wanted to drive to Oregon and smack him! HE WASN’T HELPING!
im alone and poor in my house of three kids and five animals. i’s gots lots to complain about. and..i dont have friends…havnt had time. but it would be nice to exchange complaints, laughter, cries, and joys. people tend to not help much. honestly my sarcasm comes to those people. i love your posts. soo right on!
Great post – it made me recall one time that I was in my mid 20s and got hit with a huge bill to fix something that was wrong with my car. I was complaining about it to my girlfriend and her comment was, “I hear you but think about it – at least you are a responsible adult who has probably saved some money, has a great job, will get paid more in the future and can HANDLE this. I know it sucks but for a lot of people this would be a major catastrophe. For you it’s just a bump in the road to being a kick ass working woman.”
It was a great approach – she didn’t belittle my worries, tell me things could be worse (at least not in a way that was really annoying and I felt empowered, like “Yeah – I can deal with this.”
I’ve tried to use it in some form or other in the hopes it will help others as much as it helped me.
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So much this! 90% of the complaining I do about my son is just to hear other people tell me “that is perfectly normal – my child did it too and we all survived the experience so you probably will too.” But what really pisses me off about #firstworldproblems is that when someone is complaining about something trivial, that might just be what they feel they can share about their lives. Its not their entire life. Behind their #firstworldproblems might also lie that they’re worried that they’re going to be facing foreclosure in six months and their mom just went through the first round of chemo and her doctors are panicking about her low white blood cell count and their spouse is depressed with anger issues that they worry are going to tip over again into suicide attempts again any day now. You know, as an example. So when they’re sharing that their son didn’t want to eat his banana and stashed it behind the carseat instead, maybe JUST maybe that’s the only “problem” they think you’ll be able to relate to and tell them its all going to be ok about.
I had a post brewing on how galling the whole “first world problems” hashtag is. So, thanks for writing this to which I can link! 😉
When people are upset, they just want to feel validated. Being able to cite an example of someone who has it worse than that person … which you can ALWAYS find … is the opposite. It’s invalidating and disconfirming.
I’m a Southern “bless your heart,” kind of girl if I don’t have anything else to say to make the person feel heard. But I’ve been known to toss in a “wish I could hug your little neck,” now and again, too.
I would submit that actually the people in your first scenario, complaining about your commute to someone who is unemployed, or complaining about children’s behavior to the woman who has ha 12 unsuccessful IVF’s, or the person who had a cancerous mole complaining to the person with stage IV breast cancer, are actually the bigger assholes for not considering WHO their audience is.
Everything else? Yeah, spot on. But fucking know your audience before you start complaining.
Love the rant!
On a sunny day, in the middle of a well-marked crosswalk, crossing with the light, my daughter was hit by a car. She was lying there bleeding and the police officer responding to the scene told her that she was “lucky” that her waist-length hair, clipped in a bun behind her head that day, had cushioned the fall and maybe saved her life. Her friend who was with her at the time told me later that my daughter didn’t miss a beat and snapped back, “Lucky people don’t get hit by cars. I could have been more UNlucky, but you can hardly expect me to be grateful for that.”
I’ve used the line several times since then.
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We joke in our house using “first world problems” when we recognize that we’re struggling with something really silly. I can’t imagine using that as a legitimate response to someone who is frustrated or upset. I don’t put it past some people as I’m well aware of the Asshat population. I just can’t imagine actually doing that myself. (Because I’m a helper?)
I’m pretty sure that I’ve actually said “You’re not helping” when people have been idiots. I don’t understand what makes people say such stupid things sometimes. (To provide us with blog fodder?)
*My other favorite kind of Non-Helper is the One-Upper. “Oh, yeah!? I can beat that story.” …. I didn’t know this was a Shitty Moment in My Life competition. Smh.
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So true! I agree, I hate the phrase “first world problems”, because it totally belittles and invalidates the feelings of the person who is complaining. As you said, just because there are children starving in Africa does not mean we don’t have a right to feel upset or frustrated about our lives too sometimes. It’s just totally unhelpful.
I also went through a period of infertility before having my kids, and I remember feeling as you describe when I heard other people complain about their kids: “Well at least you HAVE kids!” I would grumble to myself. And now of course I am the first one to complain about my kids LOL. It’s funny how quickly your feelings change when you are in a different life situation.
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