In Defense Of First World Problems

As a new coffee drinker, a tweet caught my eye this week that reaffirmed my belief that Twitter has eclipsed the AOL Instant Messenger as the greatest facilitator of modern values and ideas:

Getting a chocolate chip from my Starbucks Java Chip Frappucino stuck in my straw. #firstworldproblems

This scenario is, by any definition, a first world problem. It might be more accurately described as the enjoying of a first world luxury blended with a slight comical nuisance rectifiable in more or less four seconds. But it was said in good humor and it made me laugh. I wish, though, that this phrase were only used in such a light-hearted, self-aware context.

Too often, “first world problem” is used to dismiss the earnest confessions of our peers. Along with its more intellectual cousin, accusing someone of ignorance of their “privilege,” these phrases are said with two intents: to belittle another while propping the accuser as an enlightened participant of Real Life. That’s wrong. ?

There is a difference between encouraging perspective and dismissing another person. We don’t live life with an iPhone app called “Third World Street View,” where users can instantly watch camera footage of far away street kids to remind ourselves how bad life could be. Nor should we need such a device. Maturing in this World should not involve misplaced guilt or condescension. First world problems exist because we live in the first world. Grant yourself, and others, the opportunities to voice their perspective because their worlds are different than yours.

Plus, the problem with people referring First World Problems to dismiss another simply reveals their obliviousness to First World Realities. What one might perceive as a Second or Third World Problem really can be found outside your door, in places and in faces you pass on a frequent basis. The world has a whole spectrum of contexts with their own array of emotions. These can be experienced by the rich, by the poor, by the college student, by the farmer, by whomever. Whatever their context, everyone has the right to feel confusion about those emotions. Coming to terms with and understanding that context is every human’s right. ?

Maturity is found by gaining perspective. Perspective can be found through engaging in communication. No one is asking you to be a person compassionate enough to know the difference between a whine and sincere exploration of modern sentiments. But don’t commission yourself as the oracle of the enlightened as if it is a credit to your maturity. It is not; simply evidence of your arrogance. Don’t justify your lack of interest in the lives of others by creating a straw man argument about people you ultimately never cared about in the first place. ?

I do not doubt that others have experienced hardships I have not and cannot understand. But communities are not at their best in an atmosphere where the pains, confusion, and struggles each other experiences cannot be shared for fear of seeming trivial. There’s a lot to learn in a First World Life.

The problems we obsess over now might seem like chocolate chip in a straw a few years later. That’s okay. Diverse experiences are the greatest instructor of perspective, not smug memes on the Internet. TC mark

image – Dmitri Mikitenko

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  • Lolol

    just wasted 5 minutes reading a boring thoughtcatalog article #firstworldproblems

  • Mila Jaroniec

    “There is a difference between encouraging perspective and dismissing another person.” Fully agree.

  • Pao

    ‘The problems we obsess over now might seem like chocolate chip in a straw a few years later.’ haha YES

  • http://twitter.com/shoshkabob Shosh

    I’ve always seen it as an addendum so that you show people you’re aware that it’s something that’s easily rectifiable and you’re not actually angry? Because sometimes people are legitimately so spoiled that they get MAD about things like a chocolate chip in their straw or the fact that they forgot to DVR the season finale of their favorite show in 2 rooms instead of one or something that sounds both privileged and easily fixable.
    Also, what’s wrong with it meaning something to the basic effect of “at least I live in the first world where my problems are definitely not that bad”? It’s kind of nice to acknowledge the good things you have in life every day.

    • http://twitter.com/robwoh Robert Wohner

      I agree with your second statement. Life isn’t too bad and it’s good to remember that. I’m with you. 

      I think, for me, it boils down to not telling people how to feel. The people you’ve described aren’t thoughtful human beings. They’re idiots. Still, I can’t differentiate when someone has a petty gripe or genuine problem. I don’t think it’s my job to tell somebody the difference.  Or care if they know the difference, for that matter. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1453920047 Rena Sapon-White

    “I don’t like this expression “First World problems.” It is false and it is condescending. Yes, Nigerians struggle with floods or infant mortality. But these same Nigerians also deal with mundane and seemingly luxurious hassles. Connectivity issues on your BlackBerry, cost of car repair, how to sync your iPad, what brand of noodles to buy: Third World problems. All the silly stuff of life doesn’t disappear just because you’re black and live in a poorer country. People in the richer nations need a more robust sense of the lives being lived in the darker nations. Here’s a First World problem: the inability to see that others are as fully complex and as keen on technology and pleasure as you are.” ~ Teju Cole
    Now can we please stop rehashing/rehashtagging this idiotic expression?

    • LA

      “Connectivity issues on your BlackBerry, cost of car repair, how to sync your iPad, what brand of noodles to buy: Third World problems. All the silly stuff of life doesn’t disappear just because you’re black and live in a poorer country. ”

      Yes, they do. I am Brazilian, but have lived in San Diego since 2006 and still get impressed with things people here worry about.

  • a.

    Third-world street view: Coming to the app store next September!

  • SAM

    Yes, yes, so much yes. Thank you for this

  • PO

    Dear Lord, Americans!!

  • Adamcrittenden

    Haiku #?

    You, tyrant lizard,
    took my life and wrapped it in
    a tortilla. I’d (eat me, too).

  • asil

    Funny, I was thinking about this very thing today – to have someone else dismiss a bad day or sad feelings as “first-world problems” is just demeaning and frankly, rude.

  • http://www.facebook.com/discobiscuits93 Kayla Ann Stockman

    THANK YOU. I am so sick of people trying to make me feel bad for getting upset about things because there are people around the world who have it worse off. Lately my internet hasn’t been working properly, not loading pages and dropping the wireless connection and such, and it’s been frustrating me almost to the point where I don’t even want to use the computer anymore. This could be viewed as a first world problem. I am fully aware that there are people who don’t have internet, or food, or anything. But I live in a place where I expect the internet to work properly, and I am totally justified in getting annoyed when it doesn’t. That doesn’t make me a bad person. That makes me human.

  • JdM

    Another example of how philosophical discussions conflate minor issues and serve very little practical purpose.

  • Emilytharis

    Technically the term third world is actually an outdated one. It was part of a set of terms used during the Cold War. A first world was any pro-American democratic (and capitalist) country, a second world any pro-Soviet country and third world countries were underdeveloped nations that were up for grabs to either America or the USSR. Not to be nit picky, but you know first world problems… 

  • Dude...

    I know it was stated before, but the phrases “First World,” “Second World” and “Third World” are extremely outdated. The Second World was made up of communist countries, and there are not enough of those left to make up their own “world”.
    The correct terminology is “Developed” “Newly Industrialized” and “Developing”.

    • Guest

      Is that all you got from the article? Well points to you for being a pedant. I think the content was more relevant. Furthermore if the point, which is valid, has already been made why make it again? I’m not sure how that benefits anybody. 

    • Guy

      Actually no. Global North and Global South is my preference because the value judgement equating industrialization with development is bullshit, and how can you have the arrogance to say that the “1st World” has actually finished developing?

  • http://www.facebook.com/TheDaveJuliano David Andrew Juliano

    Nobody understands why they should stop calling people out on their first world problems #firstworldproblems

  • Anonymous

    I also think context is a big part of its usage – when someone self-hashtags, they’re being self-depricating: they *know* that it’s a minor nuisance & easily rectifiable. On the other hand, deeming someone else’s statement as #firstworldproblems is a much bigger minefield. It’s not your place to make those kinds of judgements about someone else’s life, even if you only meant it as a slight ribbing on the other person.

  • Nishant

    Actually, that tweet that caught your attention is the perfect example of MISUSE of the hashtag. 

    Used properly, I think, that hashtag is very relevant towards helping us get better perspective of where we are and what we have.

  • http://twitter.com/thesungjong Josh

    The title should read “In Defense of 80% of Thought Catalog” 

  • Waicool

     you should try butterscotch chips next time, and a fatter straw.  yum.

  • http://v-stimac.com/2012/06/14/therapeutic-thursday-cbt-that-firstworldproblem/ Therapeutic Thursday: CBT that #firstworldproblem « Thoughts + Tea + Travel = V

    […] Thought Catalog, had an excellent piece addressing this same issue a few weeks ago. Check it out. Like this:LikeBe the first to like […]

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