Have you ever had a friend who complains – a lot? Or know someone who whines about something you consider really insignificant? And you have to sit there, nodding in sympathy, all-the-while believing they’re making a mountain out of a molehill? In my head – but never out loud – I have a response to people like that: your problems are not real problems.
When I overhear pre-teens on the train lamenting how much homework they have: You have no idea how much better school is than work. Your problems are not real problems.
When straight white men complain about…well basically most things: You have no idea what it’s like to be marginalised, undervalued or just straight-up despised for who you are. Your problems are not real problems.
When middle-class people get irate over potholes, or bin collections, or a million other day-to-day things: You have no idea what poverty or suffering is. Your problems are not real problems.
And while it might not bring out the most sympathetic colour in me, I just can’t help it. There are just so many people who have it worse than you, I think to myself. You don’t know how incredibly lucky and privileged you are. You don’t even know you’re born. I just don’t understand how you can be blessed with so many things – family, community, a house to live in, a job that pays the bills – and then moan when something goes a little bit wrong.
But then my car got stolen. And it wasn’t just the car getting stolen that I complained about; it was everything. It was having to cancel my cards and order new ones, because my purse was in the car. It was having to buy a new purse, as well as new PJs, jeans, shoes and a bunch of other things that I lost because they were in the car. It was having to replace my prescription because my pills were in my bag that was in the car. It was having to organise lifts everywhere, having to ask in advance if my parents were going to pay before saying yes to going for dinner, having to go look for new cars.
And the negativity didn’t stop there: I complained about Ralph misbehaving, the stupid game I play on my phone glitching, how tired and busy I was, the house being a mess, people constantly bothering me on WhatsApp. For someone who often thinks, “Your problems are not real problems” I was certainly finding a lot of problems all of a sudden. But then I bumped into my neighbour, who’d had a much worse few weeks than I’d just had.
He’d been in a car accident, which meant not only was he in the car-replacing minefield that I was, but he’d also been injured and treated badly by his boss who had asked why he couldn’t carry on with the job he was in the middle of – you know, when he’d just been in a car accident. So he was looking for a new job, plus the guy who hit him drove away so he couldn’t get his insurance details, and then he was signed off work because his uncle had been found dead and his best friend committed suicide. Plus he only makes £12k a year and has a wife and three kids to feed.
Chloe, I thought to myself. Your problems are not real problems.
Yes, there’s a lot of faff that comes with having your car stolen. Yes, you’re now down about £6k and you can’t afford to redo the kitchen like you wanted. But in the grand scheme of things, you don’t have any right to complain. There are people who are homeless, people stuck in dead-end jobs with rubbish pay, people who are lonely or grieving or suffering massive health problems. Get some flipping perspective.
So I did get perspective, but this is not going where you think it’s going. Because as I was going down this line of thinking, as I was trying to rally and pull myself up by my bootstraps and keep calm and carry on, I spoke to my friend Bekah (you know, the Editor of that excellent Liberti magazine? Yeah her). She asked how I was doing, and I explained that it’s basically sorted now and actually my neighbour has had a way worse time of it really so having your car stolen is not the end of the world…
And she said, “Yeah, but it’s still a really rubbish thing that happened. You’re allowed to feel sad about it.”
Because that’s the thing; we’re not playing a worldwide game of misery Top Trumps, where only the people who have had the absolute worst time of it are allowed to complain. It’s not either/or; it’s both/and. Yes, my neighbour has had a worse few weeks than I have, but I’ve still had a really bad few weeks. Yes, we live in the top 1% of the world in terms of wealth, but we still can struggle to pay the bills. Yes there are worse things in the world than traffic jams or getting caught out in the rain or dropping your phone down the toilet, but if you remind someone of that when they’re in the middle of that thing happening, they’ll probably not take it very well because they’re busy being annoyed. You get to say you’ve had a rubbish day, even if someone else had a worse day, because that doesn’t make your day any less rubbish.
So I guess what it comes down to is: your problems are real problems. Get annoyed. Complain. Fix them, lament them, pray about them – that’s the correct response. But also, if you’re going to get riled up about homework and potholes, get riled up about the bigger stuff too. When you see what’s happening to our planet, to people living in poverty, to those who have no family or community or safe space to go, get annoyed. Complain. Fix it, lament it, pray about it. Because that’s also the correct response. Yes you’re having a bad time, and yes that other person is having a worse time. A lot of problems are real problems, so the sooner we start acknowledging that, the sooner we can start coming up with solutions.
Written by Chloe Satchell-Cobbett, Deputy Editor, Liberti