“Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.” Lao Tzu
Twice in the past week I’ve come across the term “first world problem,” which is a little odd, because it’s something I’ve been thinking about myself lately. (It’s fairly self-explanatory, but if you haven’t had your coffee yet, a “first world problem” is something the average middle or upper-class American would complain about, which would probably sound ridiculous to someone who struggles to eat or has limited or no access to things we take for granted.)
P-Diddles and I have sometimes talked about the idea of “real” problems when it comes to our kids. We are both sensitive to our children’s needs and emotions, and we try hard to be compassionate listeners and to honor our kids’ feelings. But there are some things that our kids complain about that are just not real problems, not when compared to things the majority of kids around the world are challenged with on a daily basis.
For example, my daughter pouting and stomping because, despite the fact that we have a refrigerator and pantry full of food, she can’t find something she likes to eat for breakfast. Not a real problem. Or the kids whining because they want to play longer, despite the fact that they get more playtime than 95% of the kids we know. Again, not a real problem. I’ve even said to my kids before, when it’s something that’s clearly a first-world-child’s issue, “Look, this is not a real problem. We are not going to throw a fit about not liking your soup when there are millions of kids in the world who are sleeping hungry tonight.”
Our kids are generally grateful. But when those kinds of complaints pop up I think, clearly, we need to expose our children to more hardship.
I think about this sometimes when it comes to things we adults whine about, too. Havarti and I once caught ourselves complaining about how slow our water dispenser was on our refrigerator. Yes, the water dispenser in the door of our plugged-in, well-stocked refrigerator, which spews out cold, fresh drinking water that we didn’t have to hike three miles to get. We felt really embarrassed and ashamed. A first world problem, for sure.
There are so many things we can find to complain about, aren’t there? Our dishwasher is too loud, we don’t have enough room in our cabinets, our vacation budget is too small, we have overdue library fines, we’re not passionate about our jobs, we’re getting gray hair, etc. etc. etc. First world problems. What is it with the need to complain? Do we subconsciously worry that if we are actually satisfied with everything that there will be nothing to shoot for? Is it purely a materialistic instinct?
Maybe we really do need problems and challenges. And maybe in the absence of the external and environmental difficulties that many in the world face, we find them where we can. Not to insinuate that none of our problems are real. That’s totally subjective, for the most part. Just philosophizing. I don’t have an answer.
The Lao Tzu quote above popped into my life this week as well, and it went right along with all of these thoughts. When I read it, I felt it was lovely, and very true, and very hard to accomplish for longer than a day. And perhaps the striving for more is a good thing, as long as it’s not solely directed at material pursuits. We’re supposed to try to improve ourselves, right? Gain knowledge, polish our character, grow spiritually, spread goodness, serve others . . . nothing wrong with striving for more of those things. But even at that, complaining about lacking in those areas is pretty pointless, since it rests on our own heads and hearts to do those things.
So is there even room for complaint in our lives? Is there any real point to complaining about anything at all? Does it really make us feel any better or help us accomplish anything? Are there truly things worth complaining about?
Maybe things that are truly sucky, and that we really have no control over. Like cancer. Or famine. Or greedy pharmaceutical companies. Or chin hairs.
I’m going to bed before I ramble any further. In my cozy bed, in my warm house, with my sweet, doting husband. No complaints here.