Why do people consider suffering a competition? Why when someone says they are stressed and tired do people feel they should deride them and tell them how much worse of others are? Why when someone is tired and sick do people feel the need to tell them they don’t deserve to complain because others are worse? Why is someone is having trouble paying rent or buying food do people tell them to get over it others have less? There seems to be a delicate balance point of acceptable suffering that places people in the place to deserve help and comfort but not be looked down on as being less of a person. there is also a level of ideal suffering that makes a person better in the eyes of others and makes them good. Phrases like suffer for their faith or suffering is the price of success are common and reinforce this idea. But also ideas like god rewards the faithful and the the difference between success and failure is a lack of will indicate that people believe the better people do better and have more and that poverty and illness is a sign of weakness and god’s disfavor. The very idea is rather appalling to evaluate in depth.
In the microcosm of my acquaintances I know people on every spectrum of this thought pattern and physical circumstances. When someone in their 40s says they are not bouncing back as quickly as they once did the response is for others to tell them how much more they work and how old they are to show the person is just weak and should “man up.” When a chronically ill friend mentions how hard basic activities are someone will invariably tell them they should lose weight or eat better or exercise more and their disease would disappear. When someone is afraid of the guns showing up in their neighborhood and children’s school someone will tell them the strong own guns and protect themselves whatever the cost to others and to fear that is to be weak and want to be dominated. When someone is stressed from everything in life someone will tell them how much worse someone else’s life is and that they are just being weak. When a marriage falls apart and someone can’t handle it someone will tell them they should have done better or that they should just get over it. When someone with social anxiety has trouble with general tasks someone will tell them it is just an excuse and they need to just do it or don’t complain. When someone is broke and desperate someone will tell them they should have a degree or a better job or work harder or work more hours. When someone is discriminated against someone will tell them not to infringe other peoples rights or expect to be handed everything. When someone can’t afford the medical care they need someone will tell them why society doesn’t owe people things they can’t afford on their own. When someone needs a handicapped spot and auto cart but doesn’t look ill enough they are judged and attacked.
Accepting someone’s suffering for what it is and where it is coming from seems a rare skill. We don’t know what is in each persons whole life or mind. We don’t know their past. We don’t know their health. We don’t know their family. We don’t know if that house they live in is in foreclosure and falling apart but they hide it. We don’t know if their refrigerator is empty and their clothes are old and from a thrift store. We don’t know if that shiny phone came from Craigslist and required work to repair to workable. We don’t know if their shoes don’t fit or have holes we can’t see. We don’t know that person walking to the automatic cart has a chronic illness or back injury we cant see. We don’t know if their social anxiety makes a shopping trip an ordeal. We don’t know if they are hiding a chronic illness that makes a basic workday a huge trial every day. We don’t know if their marriage that looks so nice is falling apart or violent. We don’t know that smiling man just lost his wife to cancer. We don’t know that smiling woman just left the hospital where her husband injured and car totaled. We don’t know the woman calmly running the office is trying not to show how worried she is that she left water pouring through the house from flooding. We don’t know if that small cough is allergies, a cold, cancer, flood damage, or measles.
All over the world people are suffering. People in some countries are in large numbers sleeping on the streets and starving. But here in our own country people starving may be doing it in a house they can’t afford and they may be working every day to pay for it. People here may be unable to afford to run the heater or air conditioner or water and can’t cook because the power is out. Being in a house may be better than being on the street but here they must also keep up appearances or be shunned and shamed for being a lesser person. If they slip they could lose the job that doesn’t pay the bills, their friends, their family, their homes, their car. It only takes a little to knock a lot of people of the precarious balance that is life for many. Working 2 jobs and struggling to survive means they don’t have the energy to do more and if that balance is disturbed they could drop all the plates.
It isn’t a competition. Everyone needs help. Everyone deserves a chance and to have basic needs met. Life shouldn’t be a constant struggle for so many. Society is broken. The economy is broken. Politics is broken. This does not make those caught in the wrong side of it lesser people, it means they are caught in a web they can’t escape from. Maybe they went into debt trying to further their degree and now they can’t get out of the hole. Maybe they had an injury or illness that put them in the hole. Maybe they were hit by a natural disaster. Maybe politics killed their chances. Maybe violence and murder hit their lives. Maybe drugs hit their family. Maybe age simply caught up to them.
Wherever they are that is not to be looked down on. They can move forward and do better but not without something to tip the balance. There is a part of the equation that is money and family, part that is raw luck and timing, part that is skill and education, part that is connections and placement, part that is societal acceptance and privilege, part that is work and endurance. But all of these things are a part and lacking enough of them to tip a balance all the work in the world will not change. My friend cannot work her disease away. My coworker cannot work his wife alive. None of us can work ourselves younger. I cannot work away my debt that is more than several years pay.
People are not less for struggling, they are working and you are working. Accept that you can both be working and have different strengths to draw on. Each of us has areas we are better in and areas we are not so good in. Accept that we are all in our own place and society has not dealt the same hand to everyone. Many start with half the deck of others and some start with extra cards. Accept that many people can need help in many ways. The desperate nature of one does not remove the need from the other it just means they need different things. Sometimes a supporting word can fill small needs and other times food or a job to buy food is the desperate need. Both are still needs and both are valid. Don’t refuse the one because the other hat you won’t provide also exists, especially for a friend.