Sunday, March 10, 2013


I think that I've come to dislike the hash tag "#FirstWorldProblems." It seems to have spread beyond poking fun at our tendency to over-dramatize life's little annoyances and become little more than a convenient excuse for deciding that other people are being whiners. And even though I'm completely at peace with labeling people as "whiners," it is one of those things that I think that we should own, rather than using the world's less fortunate as a sort of human shield against charges of indifference. In other words, if I'm going to be unsympathetic to someone else's distress because I find their problem to be trivial in the grand scheme of things, then I should be openly unsympathetic, rather than claiming to reserve that sympathy for someone who, five minutes prior, I didn't give a rip about. (And likely still don't.) And to a degree, this has become symptomatic of many attempts to "put things in perspective" in general. We wind up saying, whether we quite intended to or not, "Shut up, because somewhere in Africa, there's a starving refugee who would love to have that 'problem'."

Everything, it must be remembered, has a price. And part of the price of living in an advanced, technologically-driven society is that we tend to leave everything to that technology. And there's a certain amount of sense in doing things that way. While one looks like an idiot when blindly following a GPS unit's instructions leads to driving into a lagoon, trusting the GPS to get you from point A to point B is faster and more efficient, in a lot of cases, than trying to memorize a series of directions or work with a map while behind the wheel. The issue arises when we allow ourselves to let our problem-solving skills lapse, because we're completely unused to needing them, and then we're humiliated when confronted with that fact.

In much of the First (and Second, for that matter) worlds, people are highly educated, having gone through years, if not a couple of decades, of formalized instruction in a wide range of topics. In the United States, a lot of that seems to go to waste, as we don't often use it once final exams are out of the way. Perhaps it's time to change that. Rather than confronting people over the idea that they should be accepting of certain things that come their way, in exchange for not being desperately poor, we should work with people to put their accumulated skills and knowledge to work in creating solutions.

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