Recently I have been hearing folks use a new phrase. Well, new to me at any rate. After they complain about some western world annoyance such as having to stand in line or spending too much money at a big box store, they end the complaint with this comment, “first world problem.”
Initially, I whole heartily agreed with them and would even comment that they were so right to acknowledge the trivialness of the complaint. Wow, I would think, these folks are so aware of the sense of entitlement that we, who live in an affluent society, have come to believe are actually hardships in our lives.
But then I started to see folks morph the term by adding a shrug and a, what are you going to do, casualness at the end of this comment like it was an excuse and not a conscious statement of our societies embarrassment of riches.
I realized that in order to become fully aware of the day to day annoyances we experience in modern society, one must not look at these situations as “first world problems” but rather celebrate them as “first world blessings.”
How lucky are we to be able to stand in a line and return something we changed our mind about or found to be defective, and receive a full refund? How amazing is it to have the money to buy what we want in the first place and not just what we need, even if we do spent more than we anticipated? How fortunate to be able to have access to services that make our lives happier and easier, even though we have to wait in a line for our turn. These are blessings not problems.
I’ll always remember, years ago, being in Puerto Vallarta on Dec. 12th, which is our Lady of Guadalupe day and watched as hundreds and hundreds of people lined up and waited patiently to file through the old city church to pay their respects and offer up prayers. And yes, I will freely admit that it was a blessing, first world or other wise, to have had the resources to travel to Puerto Vallarta with my own family. But what amazed me the most, while witnessing this solemn procession, was the young children, some just toddlers, placidly standing with their families as they waited in line in the hot, tropical sun. Never complaining, never crying.
I was struck by the contrast to my own community. How would the children of the families in my city act in such a situation? Would they peacefully wait for several hours as their family made their way along the route, or would the crowd be filled with whining tots and harried parents placating them with promises of treats at the end, if only they would be quiet and still? That is a first world problem.
Or how about the story my dear friend told me from a volunteering trip to Haiti. The doctor who came with her on the trip apologized to an elderly woman for having to wait so long in line to see him. The lady replied that she was thrilled to wait because waiting in that line meant she didn’t have to walk almost 10 kilometres to the next town for medical help, which was her only other choice. Think about that the next time your doctor is running behind.
Have we forgotten how blessed we really are that we look at the small annoyances in our affluent lives as real problems? Even though we excuse them as first world issues, they are still far more appealing then the alternatives.
One might even say that the fact that I am lamenting over this at all, is in fact, a first world problem. And they would be right.
To this I would reply, that I know I am lucky to have the resources and freedom to state my opinion in the first place. That I have the technology needed to produce this blog at my disposal. That I have the education to write it coherently. That I have the leisure time to spend on such a trivial subject, but most of all, that I am grateful for these first world blessings.
Let’s face it folks, in north America and other western societies, even the poorest people have access to far more services and resources than those living in third world countries.
I am not writing this to shame anyone, but to instead remind us all that what we have, and how we live, are in fact, great gifts. How could even the most frustrating of irritations that we have in our daily lives, as those who reside in this first world utopia, be anything more than a small obligation for the blessings we receive each and every day.
Whether you live in a fancy house or in a one room rental and struggle on a fixed income, gratefully count your blessings daily. We still live in a society that offers far more opportunities and resources than the vast majority of the worlds population have available to them.
Those folks would be more than happy to have our first world problems and I guarantee you, they would consider themselves blessed.