In Defense Of First World Problems


As a new coffee drinker, a tweet caught my eye this week that reaffirmed my belief that Twitter has eclipsed the AOL Instant Messenger as the greatest facilitator of modern values and ideas:

Getting a chocolate chip from my Starbucks Java Chip Frappucino stuck in my straw. #firstworldproblems

This scenario is, by any definition, a first world problem. It might be more accurately described as the enjoying of a first world luxury blended with a slight comical nuisance rectifiable in more or less four seconds. But it was said in good humor and it made me laugh. I wish, though, that this phrase were only used in such a light-hearted, self-aware context.

Too often, “first world problem” is used to dismiss the earnest confessions of our peers. Along with its more intellectual cousin, accusing someone of ignorance of their “privilege,” these phrases are said with two intents: to belittle another while propping the accuser as an enlightened participant of Real Life. That’s wrong. ?

There is a difference between encouraging perspective and dismissing another person. We don’t live life with an iPhone app called “Third World Street View,” where users can instantly watch camera footage of far away street kids to remind ourselves how bad life could be. Nor should we need such a device. Maturing in this World should not involve misplaced guilt or condescension. First world problems exist because we live in the first world. Grant yourself, and others, the opportunities to voice their perspective because their worlds are different than yours.

Plus, the problem with people referring First World Problems to dismiss another simply reveals their obliviousness to First World Realities. What one might perceive as a Second or Third World Problem really can be found outside your door, in places and in faces you pass on a frequent basis. The world has a whole spectrum of contexts with their own array of emotions. These can be experienced by the rich, by the poor, by the college student, by the farmer, by whomever. Whatever their context, everyone has the right to feel confusion about those emotions. Coming to terms with and understanding that context is every human’s right. ?

Maturity is found by gaining perspective. Perspective can be found through engaging in communication. No one is asking you to be a person compassionate enough to know the difference between a whine and sincere exploration of modern sentiments. But don’t commission yourself as the oracle of the enlightened as if it is a credit to your maturity. It is not; simply evidence of your arrogance. Don’t justify your lack of interest in the lives of others by creating a straw man argument about people you ultimately never cared about in the first place. ?

I do not doubt that others have experienced hardships I have not and cannot understand. But communities are not at their best in an atmosphere where the pains, confusion, and struggles each other experiences cannot be shared for fear of seeming trivial. There’s a lot to learn in a First World Life.

The problems we obsess over now might seem like chocolate chip in a straw a few years later. That’s okay. Diverse experiences are the greatest instructor of perspective, not smug memes on the Internet.

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image – Dmitri Mikitenko