Live Simply: Drop the Comparison

Thursday Themes is an ongoing series of posts focused on given topics or passages of scripture relevant to adoption, knowing God, and learning to live simply and love radically. Please feel free to tweet theme suggestions to me @MamaMcAfee or leave a suggestion in the comments section.

In the Live Simply series, we're exploring what it means to live simply in every aspect of our lives. Living simply is a way of life that radically redefines how you see the world and how you interact with it. It's almost never easy, but always rewarding. And at the end of the day, those who choose to pursue simple, I believe, will be far better people for it and will know God in a much deeper way than when complex got in the way.

Living simply is about dropping the comparisons.

If you are on Twitter and follow anyone social justice minded, you've likely run across the hashtag "First World Problems", usually preceded by some trivial problem it is assumed only someone in the developed world would complain about. A small sampling of such tweets:

"It's Saturday night and I got invited to too many things #firstworldproblems"

"I have to pee, but I'm too lazy to get out of bed. #firstworldproblems"

"My phone is nearly dead, it was on full battery this morning :/ #FirstWorldProblems"

"I will never be Beyonce. #FirstWorldProblems"

I've got to admit, and probably rant a bit, but I am so sick of this hashtag.

Here's why: I think #FirstWorldProblems and it's non-Twitter counterparts often show a fundamental lack of understanding for the developed world and create an "us" and "them" dichotomy dangerously close to pity rather than compassion and empathy. Case in point, everyone of these tweets, cut and pasted directly from Twitter, could all be complaints of someone in the "third world".

Up til now, I've been content to remain quiet about this pet-peeve of mine and have tried since resurrecting the blog to keep from ranting on this forum. (Ranting, although I'm quite good at it, actually isn't very constructive.) But then one of my favorite bloggers, who I don't intend on calling out by name, shared his dislike for a certain sports team and wrote the following:

"If the frustration of a sports fan isn’t a first world problem, I don’t know what is."

And I got annoyed enough to write about it myself because I know "third world" people who are incredibly passionate about their sports teams and would be horribly offended at the implication that just because they live in the developing world they don't care about sports.

Please pick an African, Eastern European or South American developing nation at random, and then conduct a poll about how their citizens feel about soccer and how they feel when their team does poorly at the World Cup or worse yet doesn't even make it to the World Cup.

Please, ask a South African how it felt to host the World Cup and then go ask a Brazilian how it feels to be hosting the 2014 Cup. Then go ask a Sri Lankan about cricket. A Cuban about baseball.

People in the developing world care about the same kind of things we care about. They love their sports teams. They love music. They love television and media in many forms. And they're coming to love the internet and Facebook as more and more gain access through cell phone technology.

Yes, people in the developing world care about access to clean water and hunger and shelter and all those basic needs many in the west take for granted, but this doesn't mean they do not care about entertainment. It doesn't mean they do not have a favorite beer. It doesn't mean they do not gab on and on about local cinema and tv productions and even Hollywood productions.

No, not all of the developing world has access to all media and all forms of entertainment, but in my experience, most have some form of entertainment they do care deeply about, and they need that outlet to escape their problems and frustrations just the way we need it.

***

When I first moved from Mmametlhake to Johannesburg, I had a difficult time adjusting to how big and fast Joburg seemed and enlisted the aid of a counselor to help me transition and deal with culture shock.

Once in session, I complained about how guilty I felt complaining about my problems when I knew so many people who had "real" problems--not enough food, no roof over their head, dying of AIDS, losing a parent to AIDs, etcetera. How could I whine about so many trivial things like culture shock when there were people with real, honest-to-goodness big problems?

My counselor responded "You know, I think the point is your problems are real to you, and I don't think there is much value in comparing the problems you're dealing with to the problems someone else is facing. You're not making your problems any less real, and you're also not doing anything to help their problems."

This concept was revelational for me and almost instantly made the transition process a whole heck of a lot easier once I stopped feeling guilty for all the other feelings in my head.

My problems--from the annoying and frustrating things to the seemingly insurmountable things--they are not comparable. Comparing problems to problems is comparing apples to oranges, and, no, I'm not doing myself or anyone else any good by comparing apples and oranges.

I think this is the example Christ sets and how we see God respond in scripture over and over again. Jesus doesn't walk around comparing this tax collector's problems to this Pharisee's problems to this lepers problems. He doesn't apply the same balm to this hurt as he does to that one. God doesn't respond to David's problems in the same way as he does to Jeremiah's.

It's always we humans who spend our time comparing problems, successes, and ourselves to other humans around us, and it's not getting us anywhere.

 

When I start comparing my problems to someone else's I'm not accomplishing anything. I'm not stepping into my neighbors shoes and trying to understand their problems from their perspective. I'm not coming to any sort of understanding of who they are and what shapes their world, nor am I helping them to understand who I am and what shapes my world.

The same is true when we take it out of a global context. If I compare what I'm currently struggling with to what my colleague is struggling with or even what I'm succeeding at to what they're succeeding at, I'm not loving them well. I'm not responding to them with empathy and compassion. I'm responding to them out of my own experience of the world, and in the process, negating their experience of the world.

 

I know when someone inserts the first world problems hashtag their intent is usually to creat awareness. I know their heart is to tell themselves and others around them to get over their minor grievances and wake up to the larger grievances in the world. Their intent and their heart is usually good.

And their intent might even be to remind themselves to live more simply.

But I see the need for a paradigm shift here.

We live where we live. We deal with the things we deal with. And comparing those things to what other people in other parts of the world are dealing with is not making an impact. No one has ever seen that hashtag and done more than chuckled, mumbled "true, true" and moved on about their day. And as more and more "third world" people get on Facebook and Twitter, we need to have an awareness of the kind of impact reading one of these statements might have on someone in the developed world and the kind of "us" and "them" dichotomy we're creating.

In our day to day, we need to live simpler, stop comparing, start empathizing more and start broadening our worldview. Because our comparisons are only complicating things with guilt and shame and jealousy.

Living simply means accepting your reality for what it is and not comparing it to someone else's reality.

____________________

Read other post in the Live Simply series:

An Introduction

Being Available

The Gray Spaces

Consume Less