Quote of the week

Heather Havrilesky, wearing her Ask Polly hat, takes on some of our collective miseries:

[L]et’s reexamine this widely held sentiment that if you’re basically warm and fed and reasonably healthy, any problems you have are automatically trivial. Funny how the phrase first-world problems has a way of creating consensus among those who fancy themselves sophisticated and liberal, filling our minds as it does with images of self-proclaimed artist boys in man buns, nibbling on almond-crusted salmon and moaning about how to get their work noticed, or spoiled white ladies, sipping Champagne and whining about how their designer stilettos give them blisters.

The presumption here is that longing for more when you have a lot is somehow a crime. Daydreams are bad and embarrassing. Noticing that you’re not really that happy is weak. Observing your faulty thought patterns is suspect.

And $DEITY forbid that you should be thought weak:

Weakness is contemptible. This is the driving sentiment behind a big part of our culture, and it speaks to some sick core of “I’ll get mine” American values: The world is split into winners and losers. If you’re a winner, you deserve to win and you shouldn’t concern yourself with anything more than winning and winners. If you’re a loser, you’ll always lose, and why should anyone give you a second thought? Go be a loser somewhere else, or at least shut up about it.

But I’m a firm believer in longing and daydreams. I think when you’re melancholy about your life, it’s not just crucial to notice that, but it’s an enormous waste of a life not to notice it and address it. Are we really going to define the platonic ideal of existence in the first world as keeping your fucking mouth shut about what’s true and real and difficult for you, no matter what?

Stoicism can carry you only so far. And I think it’s leaving me out by the curb.


  1. fillyjonk »

    30 July 2016 · 7:44 am

    As someone who is frequently derailed into a teary mess by what would be designated “first world problems” I have many feelings about this.

    The biggest one is the quotation often misattributed to Plato (though it was probably actually a 19th century pastor who actually wrote it): “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” I think there’s a lot of truth to that.

    I think of the girl I went to prep school with, whose divorced mother tried to ‘bribe’ her by sending her six pairs of Guess! jeans (when they were new and hot) so the girl wouldn’t come home some weekend from school when Mom wanted to be with a new lover. And I think of how I griped about wearing jeans from Sears but how I had parents who were happy to see me when I came home….no one has it easy, no matter what it may look like on the surface. (And yes, I recognize the irony in the fact that I experienced that while at **prep** school)

    And yet, I do get disgusted at myself for doing things like crying over losing access to an “easy” stats software package (because budget cuts at my workplace) and having to try to learn R or some damn thing instead – because yeah, that’s really a First World Problem and I have bought into the mentality of Thou Shalt Not Complain. And I don’t know. I don’t know at what point I’m “entitled” to feel frustrated with how things are going on in the world and at what point I just need to suck it up. (And I know, some would say: you should always suck it up)

  2. Francis W. Porretto »

    30 July 2016 · 8:08 am

    Miss Havrilesky has expended quite a number of words jousting with strawmen. As for your condition, Charles, you’re not “reasonably healthy;” you’re in a bad way and could indisputably use an improvement in your health. And I haven’t heard you complain about blisters from your designer stilettos. (Duyen would have told me about it.)

    The American credo isn’t about “winners and losers.” It’s about independence and self-reliance. Nothing in our psychological foundations demands that each of us must get everything he wants or be branded a “loser.” Those who deserve the label are those who whine about not having everything they want but who won’t bestir themselves to the effort required to get any of it.

    Weakness isn’t contemptible; many are weak through little or no fault of their own. Myasthenics. Paraplegics. What’s contemptible is the “I deserve everything I want but it’s not my responsibility to work for it” mentality that sweeping large sectors of our society.

  3. ETat »

    30 July 2016 · 10:02 am

    …and again I find myself agreeing with Francis’ every word.
    What’s wrong with me? Am I getting WEAK?!?

  4. Roger Green »

    1 August 2016 · 4:56 am

    It makes for a funny Weird Al song, though. But of course, the term is quite reductivist

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