First World Problems

 

Recently, we adopted a pair of kittens.  They’re cute, cuddly, feisty; all of the things you’d expect from a pair of kittens, all of which our eleven-year-old cat holds in disdain.  Whenever the kittens are near, he hisses and occasionally takes a swipe at them.  It’s a problem, but not a true problem.  It’s probably the biggest problem we’ve got at present, and it humbles me.

We also have a half-dozen kids, two with special needs.  This presents a number of problems on a daily basis but –having been in this parent-gig for thirteen years — those daily challenges act more as speed bumps: they slow down the pace of the day, but aren’t really barriers.

All of this came to mind when I was trying to find a way to appropriately explain our relative opulence to one of our older children.  Contrast, I suggested, our problems with those of our brethren in other parts of the world, who are, at this moment, being forced out of their homes, raped, beheaded, or whatever horror suits their oppressor’s fancy.  That sort of thinking has caused my tolerance for Western consumerism to wear a little thin lately.  Not that I’m a minimalist.  I’m typing this on a new laptop and spent the better part of the other night researching alternate ISP’s because ours is a little unreliable for the price.  Still, there have been a number of instances lately that have shaken my faith in our culture’s priorities, peaches chief among them.

Last month, a particular processing plant in California voluntarily recalled peaches and nectarines due to possible listeria contamination.  Leaving aside my confusion over how a fruit can be irreparably contaminated with a dangerous bacteria (isn’t this why we wash our fruit?), I became disheartened when I was forced to throw thousands of pounds of perfectly good fruit in the garbage in the course of my work.  Most of it wasn’t part of the recall, but people simply didn’t feel good about eating it.  Think about that for a moment, and consider what a few thousand pounds of fresh fruit would mean to a village in any third world country.  But, since we read on Facebook that peaches are bad now (never mind the details), we throw them away, get ourselves a refund, and buy some oranges as replacement.  This is what we call a First World Problem.

I encounter things like this so often that it really shouldn’t surprise me but, as the fruit mounted and the cross-cultural indifference became so widespread and callous, I despaired.  The final straw was a summer camp operator who, after getting rained out for an event, whined until reluctantly being allowed return over $200 of perfectly good, but perishable, picnic supplies.  “After all,” he reasoned, “what are we supposed to do with it?  We didn’t need it, and it was rather expensive.”  Biting my tongue, and valuing my job, I refrained from offering the first suggestion that came to mind.

Lest I paint a picture of myself as living within a perpetual state of frugality and good stewardship, let me relate a personal gut-check.

Not long ago I had a conversation with God in the cab of my pickup, whining out my frustrations to Him over having to shell out close to a thousand dollars for its most recent repair.  This had come on top of the fact we had spent the better part of that year scraping together donations toward our international adoption of two kids.  As I drove my now perfectly-running truck on dry summer roads through a peaceful, growing, Alaskan city toward my middle-income job, I was somehow bitter.  I asked God for peace through the rotten hand we’d been dealt, when I received the following, gentle rebuke:

“You still have more than seven times the amount of that mechanic’s bill in your emergency savings account, right?”

“Well, yeah,” I replied.

“Some people might call that a First World Problem.”

I lowered my head, agreed, and repented for my lack of faith.  I was infused with a responsibility to set aside my juvenile grievances, give thanks for all we have, and make better choices about where we invest our resources, how we prioritize our needs, and what we owe to those suffering — desperate and persecuted — who’d gladly trade the terror of waiting for ISIS to kick in the door for problems like hissing cats and imperfect fruit.

Image Credit: Bryan Costin.

There are 10 comments.

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  1. iWc Coolidge
    iWc
    @iWe

    I liked this.

    The fact is that worriers worry. People are not wired for happiness – when things go well, we invent problems and concerns, or we create new problems by being stupid.

    • #1
  2. Mendel Member
    Mendel
    @Mendel

    iWc:

    People are not wired for happiness – when things go well, we invent problems and concerns, or we create new problems by being stupid.

     I agree. We are hardwired to look for problems and find difficulties in our lives, whether or not they exist.  And that can be a good thing, because it drives us to constantly improve our lives. If we had the capacity to say “we’ve come far enough, let’s be content with how things are now,” we’d probably still be stuck somewhere around 1900.

    • #2
  3. Mendel Member
    Mendel
    @Mendel

    Vince Guerra:

    Last month a particular processing plant in California voluntarily recalled a number of peaches and nectarines due to possible listeria contamination. Leaving aside my confusion over how a fruit can be irreparably contaminated with a dangerous bacteria (isn’t this why we wash our fruit?), 

     

     The “irreparable contamination” line is partially true and partially meant to scare you.

    Washing fruit never removes all of the bacteria; some will always remain behind. This means there is still a very small chance of being infected by Listeria even if you wash your fruit. Considering the bad PR that even one case of infection can bring to the growers, they would much rather compel you into discarding or returning your fruit than take that chance, so they make the risk sound as menacing as they can.

    • #3
  4. user_231912 Member
    user_231912
    @BrianMcMenomy

    Vince, thanks for the reminder that gratitude & perspective are useful antidotes for self-pity and worry.  As Duran Duran said in “Ordinary World”, in comparison to what others are going through, “…ours is just a little sorrow…”.

    • #4
  5. The Forgotten Man Member
    The Forgotten Man
    @TheForgottenMan

    I teach at a 2 year college in the mid-west.  My students, usually of modest means, some times express their desire to win the lottery.  I say to them,” You live in America in the 21st  century, you’ve already won the lottery”.  So far there has been no disagreement.

    • #5
  6. Nick Stuart Member
    Nick Stuart
    @NickStuart

    When I didn’t have medical insurance (most of the last 5 years, but right now I have an awesome job with awesome insurance, miracle on the order of Fish & Loaves) I would tell myself that anybody in the US (from the brokest homeless person on up) is better off medically today than anybody in the world, including the Czar of Russia, Emperors, Kings, Sultans 100 years ago.

    • #6
  7. user_1700 Coolidge
    user_1700
    @Rapporteur

    Vince, the first thought that struck me was “did Dave Carter write this?”  That would put you in good company indeed … 8^)

    • #7
  8. user_549556 Member
    user_549556
    @VinceGuerra

    George Rapp:

    Vince, the first thought that struck me was “did Dave Carter write this?” That would put you in good company indeed … 8^)

     Thanks indeed George.

    • #8
  9. user_554634 Moderator
    user_554634
    @MikeRapkoch

    As usual I’m a couple weeks behind on my Ricochet catch-up. Don’t know how I missed this, but I appreciate the gentle nudge you offer here Vince.

    Dennis Prager has a good discussion of this “what I don’t have” mentality we all fall into so easily.

    Thanks again.

    • #9
  10. user_549556 Member
    user_549556
    @VinceGuerra

    I only get to skim through Ricochet a couple of times a week myself. Thanks for the encouragement.

    • #10

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