With so much suffering in the news this week, I have heard that sentiment several times.
Useful though it is to acknowledge the charmed nature of our own existence, the suffering of others doesn’t mean that our problems are inconsequential. If that were the case, then only one person in the whole, wide world would be allowed to admit that he has a problem.
Let’s say that Mike is having a bad day because his boss is angry. He disregards it because Mary is having a worse day: her tattoo artist put “Larry” on her nethers, and her boyfriend’s name is Carry. But she can’t complain because Nick stepped in a bear trap, fell down the stairs, and landed in a vat of tripe.
Eventually, we get to the person who is having the worst day in the world. The my-problems-are-trivial logic says only that person has real problems. The rest of us, even Nick, should walk it off.
The logic is perfectly natural. When we notice the suffering of others, our minds give us a dose of shame to remind us that life ain’t so bad. That is a good and useful thing, but shame can be immobilizing when it takes over. Mike, Mary, and Nick need to find solutions before their problems grow. That fact is not altered by the suffering of others, and none of them can afford to let shame impede their responsibilities.
Of course, my examples are kinda silly. Here is a more realistic scenario: someone struggling with depression notices the suffering of others, and he becomes mired in shame at his inability to stop being depressed. That gives him one more reason to dislike himself, and the depression grows that much worse.
My clinical opinion? Count your blessings, help out where you can, then get back to work on whatever problem you face. As supervisors have told me, you are more useful to others when your own house is in order.
They also told me to stop coming to supervision drunk, and for God’s sake put some pants on, but that advice probably doesn’t apply to you. So just take care of yourself.