Dancing with Earthquakes
"Other People Are Worse Off Than You Are"
By Rosana Clarkson
Nov 8, 2009 - 8:35:20 PM

LOS ANGELES—If you are complaining about your crummy life, and a friend tells you, "Quit being a wuss.  Other people are worse off than you are," this can be very helpful and inspiring and make you grateful for the things you do have. 

Case in point: If your buddy catches you in a body cast screaming from excruciating pain when he makes this statement—namely:  "The guy in the next room just found out he has cancer, and besides, you knew better than to get behind the wheel, when you know you can't drive," his comment can empower you with strength you never realized you had, and maybe even inspire you to will yourself back to health in the matter of seconds...as you rip through your way out of the cast and put HIM in one.

So this shows how much power anger can have in its proper uses.  I am barely coming back in touch with the lioness in me.  In fact, I would recommend making a game of writing out a list of things people, (including counselors), say when you are bellyaching like any spoiled brat. I'm sure you know what I mean.  For instance, you may have recently had a very encouraging phone conversation with a friend regarding the time you were molested by an 85-year-old man when you were 12.

"Well," your friend said," my cousin was raped when she was five and she never complains to me about it."

"I suppose she complains to her refrigerator, then," you muttered.

"And besides," she continued, ignoring you, "how at 12 were you not big enough to break away from an 85-year-old and climb out the window?  Or scream for help?   I mean, really."  She snorts.  "These things happened a long time ago, and you're not over it by now? And I can't see why you're still complaining about the time your father kicked you down the stairs and pushed you out in the cold in your Scooby Doo underwear and made you eat Meaty Bones for breakfast when so many children are starving in Ethiopia.  At least he fed you.  At least you had clothes.  Count your blessings!"

"But it doesn't matter how long ago it happened, it still happened," you said. "I got hit by a bus more than a month ago and I'm just barely recovering."

"So what?" she shouted.  "Somebody else, somewhere else, got hit by a train.  Besides, so many people are homeless, and you're not, so you should just be grateful you have a roof over your head, and you're able to talk to me on the phone about this."

"Well," you said, "maybe I'm crazy, but even though some of these people are victims of circumstances, don't some of them choose that lifestyle, despite the offers for help they receive?  And isn't it possible for some of them to still have many other things that I don't have?  You know...like family, friends?  Love...?"

"Well, the reason you don't have those things is because it's all your fault."

You nodded understandingly, smacking your gum meditatively.  "Go on."

"And so many people are in wheelchairs," she said, "and are blind, and deaf.  You can walk, you can see, you can hear, so be grateful." 

"Well, shows how little I know," you said.  "I always had the foolish notion that a depressed person is actually worse off than a person who is in a wheelchair.  People who are obviously disabled are often showered with compassion and love, and strangers always hold doors for them and so on.  Depression is just as disabling, perhaps in some ways even more so, but no one is able to see it, so others are very impatient.  Their bosses yell at them, their mates leave them, their friends accuse them of never wanting to help themselves.  And a person who is wealthy might be worse off in many other aspects than a person who is poor.  If what we're going through is enough to suck the joy out of living, then what use is having sight, hearing, and mobility?" you add.  "You know, like, I'm pregnant with my rapist's child, and now I just miscarried that baby within a few minutes of talking to you...just my stupid perspective."

"You want some advice?"  she asked.

"No," you said, "tell me more." 

"You’re pregnant with your rapist's child.  So what?  This lady I know doesn't even know the father of her baby."

"That's a novel one," you said. "Thank you."

"And you miscarried?"  She snorted.  "Some people can't even have kids."

"Well, look," you said, "can you just give some attention to me instead of these other people, for now?  I'm hanging over a cliff some 500 feet above some very sharp rocks, so I sort of need your help."

"So what?" she says.  "Some people are hanging 1,000 feet over some very sharp rocks, and besides, you have at least a good 15 seconds before that twig breaks, so just be grateful, because other people already fell to their death and—"

Well, you finally hung up on her, but you decided later on to give such people a break.  They mean well, and believe they are helping. They just may not realize that this advice can only apply to those who are saying, "Oh! I want to make a Hot Pocket so bad, but I'm just too lazy to get up and cook it," and then shoot themselves after listening to your suggestion to pop it in the microwave.  They don't recognize that it's an entirely different thing to tell a person to find joy in life by justifying everything with the "worse off" line when their problems are real.  One might have an arm missing.  It could be worse, but that doesn't solve his problem.

The holiday season takes me back years, when I was a teen living in an adolescent group home, where I had finished up after my parents abandoned me.  I was among the other girls who remained in the home while others were allowed a few days to stay over with friends and family for the holidays. During a group therapy session run by one of the on-site counselors, the counselor asked us which of us did not have anyone to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with. 

All of the girls including me raised our hands.

"Could be worse, you know," the counselor said.

The other girls snorted.  I just chuckled to myself.  Even at that age, I somehow sensed the condescending dismissal most people tend to have towards those of us with valid problems.  It took me a while to realize that "Move on," "Get over it," and "It was a long time ago, take responsibility for your own life now," are actually codes for, "I don't want to hear about your pain."  The majority of people want their problems acknowledged, not trivialized; however, ours is of the pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps-and-shut-up-whining generation. 

Being a Jehovah's Witness, I believe I will be among those exempt of this holiday season's skyrocketing suicides, but I only hope to tell those who think about taking their own lives that others who deny, dismiss and minimize their problems simply don't get it and are not worth spending any time of the year with.  It doesn't matter that we're not being tortured in a prison camp, what's bad enough is bad enoughsomething that they don't get and never will.  Besides, any time someone says something stupid to me, I no longer desire suicide.  I just fantasize about taking a gun and shooting them and not myself.

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