Reflecting on the insensitivity of #FirstWorldProblems

I forget. I forget sometimes that pain, emotional or physical, is relative. When I reflect on a “bad day” I see a series of trivial setbacks. A long set of dishes to wash or a fire alarm that ran out of batteries can make me pout for at least a couple hours.

Because that pain is relative it’s hard to imagine how life could be harder beyond a known realm of experience. This can make empathy difficult and generally lost to many, especially those of us that are primarily logical thinkers.

The phrase “First World Problems” has become more commonplace in the last year. It refers to the problems that “only people in the first world” would have to face. Some regular internet users adopted different pictures of upper middle class people to illustrate the problems they associate with first world.

Most of the problems are overdramatic and cater to the laziness some have adopted. Usually the posts have phrases like “My laptop died, but my charger is in the other room,” and “I tried to spread cold butter on my toast, and the bread ripped.”

While comical in a satiric way, most people reading the posts empathize with the problems listed, therefore reinforcing the stereotype.

A viral video on the subject made its way onto my Facebook newsfeed within the last two weeks. It featured residents of third world countries as they read aloud the first world problems from Twitter.  Presented by “Everyone Matters” and produced by “Water is Life,” Haitian children and adults were filmed in barren rooms and tattered clothing.

They recited phrases like, “I hate when I can’t walk and text at the same time.” The disjointed aspects of the video demonstrate the ridiculousness of first world problems, and for some, the guilt that accompanies that realization.

I watched the video and nearly cried from my sheer failure to understand. I don’t have any problems that I can “compare” to people living in poverty and, like most people, I feel it’s almost impossible to imagine.

It’s like trying to name something new: without a meaning behind the word, an endless string of letters has no purpose. My feelings sat purposelessly, waiting for a tangible meaning or experience to associate the feeling with but nothing came. What was I going to do about the situation, especially if I can’t even understand?

In the end we have to try to empathize and take action. Whatever can be done, donating time, money or even spreading awareness, something has to happen. And while the jokes are satirical they come across as entitled and sometimes rude.

We forget that we’re lucky or blessed or however you spin it. We have more. And with that “more,” we have more responsibility. We can’t forget that we have more. And we can’t forget that others have less.

 

Gretchen is a junior civil engineering major from Evansville, Indiana. She is the Scout copy editor. Direct comments, concerns, or other responses to gwolking@mail.bradley.edu