Why you should sympathise with first world problems (when your own are much bigger)

I stubbed my toe.
I can’t afford concert tickets.
There’s no chocolate in my house.
Who hasn’t heard such complaints? From friends, colleagues – perhaps from yourself.

why you should sympathise with first world problems www.calledtowatch.com #caregiver #struggle #chronicillness #writer #hope #chronic #faith #watching #prayer

We often label them “first world problems”.
And they can be annoying. Especially as Watchers.

This is NOT a post about being thankful for small blessings, or complaining less.

This is a post about what to do when people complain about “tiny” issues when we are dealing with big ones.

This is a post about how to respond to the frustration and bitterness that wells up within us when we hear such small complaints.

This is a post about dealing with the jealousy that arises when our best friend’s biggest problem is that they’ve been invited to two events and can only attend one – while our Loved One is suffering in silence and we can attend neither.

In short: this is a post about living in a world with people with different world views and experiences and perspectives – and loving them all the same.

Why do we find it difficult to sympathise?

We’ve said it’s hard to sympathise with people when their hurts seem more trivial than our own. But why?

Their problems actually ARE smaller

First of all, I think it’s because some hurts are genuinely ‘smaller’ than others.

In the 21st century we like to say that everyone is equal and everything is the same. Multiple experiences and multiple truths can co-exist. On one level this is true and helpful – but on another, it’s really not.

After all, I think we can all look at the world and, (however much it would be nice to deny it) accept that some people’s lives seem objectively harder.

Some problems are tougher than others. Perhaps not to the person dealing with them – but I think none of us would deny that cancer trumps the common cold.

So I think one reason we find it hard as Watchers to sympathise with ‘smaller pains’ is that they are smaller pains – and we have lived through much bigger ones.

We have a perspective that our friends may not, and we cannot erase that.

“Everyone is equal – but some problems are bigger than others.”

Our own problems ALWAYS seem more important

We may also find it hard to sympathise for the simple reason that we are selfish creatures.

We want the sympathy for ourselves.

We don’t want to share it. We much prefer when other people see our suffering and comment on it, encourage us and bemoan alongside us.

Is there one person who would genuinely enjoy patting someone on the back about their bruised toe while their own leg lay broken and mangled in front of them?

I suspect all of us would find that very difficult, if not impossible – simply because our own problems always take priority.

Even if our own toe was only bruised – we would find it difficult to comfort someone else over theirs.

Why must we sympathise?

If it’s so hard, and even seems nonsensical – why should we even try to sympathise with others’ smaller problems?

It’s logical

The fact is, our fellow humans do not ‘owe’ us sympathy.

We can’t demand it as a right, or become bitter when we don’t receive it.

There is nothing which says they must see our sufferings or even care about them before we offer them sympathy. And so, we can’t withhold sympathy out of jealousy or a sense of entitlement – that would be illogical.

Why you should sympathise with first world problems even when you have real ones- www.calledtowatch.com - chronic illness suffering loneliness
I had to eat this delicious cake… it was such a trial. Will you sympathise with me?

It’s loving

I think it’s easy to forget that when someone tells us about their cold, they’re not just passing on a piece of information.

We’re not robots, we’re human, and all communication is deeper than a ‘word exchange’. When our friend complains about their missing car-keys they are:

  1. Choosing to share part of their life with us
  2. Giving us a tiny window into what stresses them or how they’re feeling
  3. Telling us what is important to them at that moment

And this is crucial.

This is how friendships form and love is imparted. We care for people by meeting them where they are.

We don’t wait for immense tragedies before we offer kindness – we take very opportunity, and affirm that everyone’s experience is a valid reality.

It’s God’s way

Sympathy is not deserved.

It’s not an entitlement but a blessing – and this is exactly why we must offer it. Sympathy is God’s way. He met us where we were. He sympathised with our lives by coming down and joining in them.

By walking along dusty roads, and weeping over death, and ultimately by dying on a cross.

If for no other reason, this is why we must sympathise.

// Do you ever find it difficult to sympathise with someone else’s problems? Are there any particular complaints which grate on your nerves? Has this post helped at all? Comment and join the conversation here!

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Author: Emily J. M.

Hi, I'm Emily. Two of my closest family members struggle with chronic illness, and I watch them. That's hard, and so I write about life as a 'Watcher', what it looks like to support them and find Hope.

2 thoughts on “Why you should sympathise with first world problems (when your own are much bigger)”

  1. I agree we do need to learn to empathize with others. All pain is significant and should be recognized and not compared. If someone I care about is hurting about something, I want to care because it hurts them. Thank you for bringing this to light.
    However, I will say sometimes I have to step away from their pain or frustration because my pain becomes unbearable in light of their issue. It is hard to hear friends stressing about becoming an empty nester or how they can’t seem to bear the fact their child will be moving out when I dream that one day my adult child will be able to hit those milestones. Some days I can be a great friend and listen, support but other days I have to step away.
    My good friends understand, and we can share in each other’s lives.

    1. Thank you for your thoughts Maree!
      You are right, it is so valuable to be able to share lives, but we are also only human and sometimes grief means we do have to leave and I think that’s okay too 🙂

Thoughts? I'd love to hear from you, friend.