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Thread: On the Aphorism 'There are people worse off than you'

  1. #1 On the Aphorism 'There are people worse off than you' 
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    I don't know whether this is appropriate for the philosophy forum, but I thought I'd put it here because it's something that I have found myself considering quite often.

    A lot of the time, if you tell somebody about a problem you have they'll say "well at least you're not in the 3rd world" or "hey - you live in England/US/wherever you have got it way better than most people in the World" or something along those lines.

    Now, what I assume is implied by the aphorism is that one should be greatful for what one has.

    Frankly though, I think a more rational interpretation of it is that other people are suffering more deeply than you are, so be grateful that you're not in such terrible circumstances as them.

    Pulling it apart, it seems to me to boil down to 'though you are suffering now, there is a whole world of deeper suffering possible to you so be glad that things are not quite that bad'.

    Now, I don't know about you, but I think the supposed message of 'feel better' does not get through there. It simply acts to make one focus on the vast possibilities of human suffering in the World.

    Another assumption this sort of statement seems to make is that it's entirely possible for you to feel fine if only you'd realise how 'lucky' you are. It belittles your pain.

    I find when I feel pain, that concentrating on other's suffering or the endless possibilities of suffering in the world tends not to help.

    So people, why, if this aphorism is condescending, belittling and makes people feel worse is it so damn popular?! Or perhaps you guys think I've got this all wrong? Feel free to debate away!!


    If a man has a why, he can bear almost any how. - Nietzsche
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  3. #2 Re: On the Aphorism 'There are people worse off than you' 
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    ill tell you why. because. thats why.

    So people, why, if this aphorism is condescending, belittling and makes people feel worse is it so damn popular?!
    actualy i dont know. Do you prefer look on the bright side? I mean throwing a pity party doesn't help.

    i do agree it can be an inappropiate and frustrating thing to say. such as
    "i just broke my toe on ur bed!"
    "at least you not dead."


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  4. #3  
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    We are all marching down the road to death, you are better off than the people in front of you, if longevity is your priority. As for me, I keep popping out for a pee, so I'm gradually working my may backwards along the queue....


    "I'm not afraid of death, only dying" - Woody Allen.
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  5. #4 Re: On the Aphorism 'There are people worse off than you' 
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    Quote Originally Posted by miscast
    So people, why, if this aphorism is condescending, belittling and makes people feel worse is it so damn popular?! Or perhaps you guys think I've got this all wrong? Feel free to debate away!!
    Why do Christians believe they are born in debt to a man who died 2000 years ago, that they should try to repay this debt but never will?

    Why do Buddhists believe that they must root desire out of their bodies adn minds?

    Why are we surrounded by guilt making messages all the time adn often these messages come in the guise of helping or being loving?

    I agree with your critique. I wouldn't want to make a rule that one should never place someone's suffering in a wider context, but in general I think this either works as guilt or as a kind of denial mechanism.

    I mean, here we are with our local problems and who else is going to feel them and deal with them. And solving these, in part by caring about them - hence the bad feelings - does not take away from others.
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  6. #5 Re: On the Aphorism 'There are people worse off than you' 
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    Quote Originally Posted by SealOtter
    I mean throwing a pity party doesn't help.
    There is often an assumption that observers know how much emotion is appropriate as a response to this or that painful life experience. They don't say this directly or perhaps even think it. But at some point people make a judgment - that is a pity party.

    Hidden in that is that person's sense that they know how many hours of crying, how many weeks one is down, how much bitching is appropriate for
    sexual abuse
    losing a job
    being dumped by someone
    someone being rude in a restaurant

    but the ways in which we react to these things take in a huge context. The person who is sexually abused but has very close friends and a family who believes them is going to go throught their pain faster that someone who does not.

    The person rudely treated in a restaurant who was treated that way by someone just like their father is going to take longer than someone else.

    And you can come up with hundreds of other changes in context. And some people are just more emotional, and thank God. I wouldn't want most people to be like my 10th grade chemistry teacher. He wuold never, ever have thrown a pity party. But he was a cold fish.

    There are different people, reacting in different contexts, to events with different significances, and with different goals around self awareness and the depth of life they want to live.

    It's time we stopped assuming we know how long people need to process things, how much emotion they need to express along the way, and what the whole thing should look like.

    Why are we in such a hurry? What is it we don't want to feel?
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    It's time we stopped assuming we know how long people need to process things, how much emotion they need to express along the way, and what the whole thing should look like.
    I think i understand it better now. thank you.
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  8. #7 Re: On the Aphorism 'There are people worse off than you' 
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    Quote Originally Posted by Moreno
    Why are we in such a hurry? What is it we don't want to feel?
    We shouldn't want to feel maudlin self pity based upon a powerfully egocentric world view that lacks empathy for fellow humans. Consequently, the rejoinder "there are people worse off than yourself", is a wholly appropriate admonition to snap out of the self indulgent and unhealthy inward focus that seems to be a natural tendency of humans.
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  9. #8 Re: On the Aphorism 'There are people worse off than you' 
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ophiolite
    Quote Originally Posted by Moreno
    Why are we in such a hurry? What is it we don't want to feel?
    We shouldn't want to feel maudlin self pity based upon a powerfully egocentric world view that lacks empathy for fellow humans. Consequently, the rejoinder "there are people worse off than yourself", is a wholly appropriate admonition to snap out of the self indulgent and unhealthy inward focus that seems to be a natural tendency of humans.
    It sounds like you have a lot of judgements about how much people should actually feel their feelings.

    Experiencing your own life does not take away from others who are suffering more. And since many of the reasons we suffer are connected to each other, it deepens our understanding and often sympathy for the suffering of others.

    Then on a practical level: the admonition to "snap out of" it does not help anyone. People stuff down their emotions and go back to their jobs and keep quiet. They do not suddenly rush out and help Angelina Jolie feed the 3rd world poor. And now they have less energy to invest in others, now having to repress their own feelings.

    Then the absurdity of this 'rule'...

    there is only one person on the planet who is then allowed to go into all of his or her feelings about what they are suffereing. Someone being repeatedly raped and tortured and watchign the same things happen to their family. Everyone else is not suffering as much and so they should snap out of it. The final irony of this absurdity is that this person would have no way of knowing they are the worst off and might feel guilty assuming it.

    Since their is so much naivte around this issue, I feel compelled to add...
    there are people who freeze and wallow in their pain, they get stuck there. Often if they never feel and express their anger about whatever it was. But I notice that most people do not decide someone should 'snap out of it' from any great intuition about how long such and such an INDIVIDUAL needs to deal with such and such SPECIFIC EXPERIENCE adn its SPECIFIC SIGNIFICANCE.
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  10. #9  
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    With as much respect as I can muster Moreno, the overwhelming majority of people I have seen bemoaning their condition are, in truth, pretty well off in comparison with the bulk of humanity.
    The individuals who have endured truly horrifying experiences, or, indeed are in the midst of them, are in contrast, self effacing and generally silent about their personal difficulties. So, yes, I do make a judgement. I decide that those who are so well off materially and spiritually that the worst they have to worry about is failing an exam, or being fired, or getting dumped by a lover; that those individuals should indeed 'snap out of it'. Better yet, they shouldn't drift into their self pity in the first place, because, yes, there are many people who are worse of than they. This self indulgence is an affront to those who truly suffer and crippling handicap to the self pitier.
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  11. #10  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ophiolite
    With as much respect as I can muster Moreno, the overwhelming majority of people I have seen bemoaning their condition are, in truth, pretty well off in comparison with the bulk of humanity.
    The individuals who have endured truly horrifying experiences, or, indeed are in the midst of them, are in contrast, self effacing and generally silent about their personal difficulties. So, yes, I do make a judgement. I decide that those who are so well off materially and spiritually that the worst they have to worry about is failing an exam, or being fired, or getting dumped by a lover; that those individuals should indeed 'snap out of it'. Better yet, they shouldn't drift into their self pity in the first place, because, yes, there are many people who are worse of than they. This self indulgence is an affront to those who truly suffer and crippling handicap to the self pitier.
    My first wife who suffered a terminal illness to which she eventually lost the battle, upon seeing me a little depressed one day after she had taken a turn for the worse said[as far as I can remember] "There are people in the world who can do nothing but watch their children die of starvation before their very eyes, so cheer up, things could be worse!" - It was quite a tonic and something I draw great strength from, from time to time, words I shall never forget.

    For many years after I lost her I had little concern and could feel no pity for people who might worry about the car, their mortgage, how they would pay for christmas presents. I now know with more experience that their concerns are to them, as real as mine were to me. As Long as I wake in the mornings all is well for me.
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  12. #11  
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    I didn't read anything but the first post so sorry if this has already been said.

    Personally I don't like to tell people when I have problems and if I do I don't expect a response. I think that maybe people can't think of anything to say and are just plain tired of saying 'sorry' (or hearing it). I agree that talking about others pain doesn't really help. I am a bit different than some though. Among my friends when someone gets hurt or something bad happens it is thought of as a learning experiance and treated as such. I hear things like "shake it off" or "stop whining", or maybe "sucks for you". Sometimes I think the idea is to get the person away from thinking the bad thoughts. Telling than something that happened to you that was worse. Maybe people use the "it could have been worse" in the same way. Thinking of others problems as opposed to your own.
    Do not try and bend the spoon. That's impossible. Instead... only realize the truth. There is no spoon. Then you'll see that it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself. -Spoon Boy
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ophiolite
    This self indulgence is an affront to those who truly suffer and crippling handicap to the self pitier.
    To be upset at losing a job is no affont to someone somewhere else who is being tortured. It is a natural response to something unpleasant and does not harm and does not insult that other person. If that person who lost his or her job came in contact with that tortured person adn could not distinguish between the severity of their situations, OK, this is an idiot. When in the past certain rich people would fire (and condemn to poverty) a worker for an aesthetic issue that 'bothered' them, sure that is idiotic and a failure of perspective. But people reacting to problems in their own lives and not demanding that other suffering more or more vulnerable suffer more for their benefit is not a problem.

    If I stub my toe I am going to groan or shout. Just cause the guy next door had his leg amputated does not mean I will lecture myself about his pain rather than shouting. If I later spend an hour in his apartment - while he lies there with his bandaged stub - complaining abuot my stubbed toe and never asking him about his feelings and pain, yes, I am an asshole.

    But to mentally juxtapose my situation with others as a way of suppressing natural responses to bad situations is just guilt. And to foist that on others is a guilt-trip.
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    I believe that the feeling of condescending is more likely caused by oneself as a result of being unable to discharge the frustration caused by suffering.

    What I find a much more useful method of 'coping' with tragedy and frustration is the 'Greek' method, or at least the one that Nietzsche proposes. Namely, the idea that although there may be great tragedies and suffering, life is worth it. Indeed, loving fate - what Nietzsche calls amor fati - is an interesting concept that goes hand in hand with this.

    Nietzsche proposes the idea of the eternal recurrence, a test that suggests that 'when you are forced to live your life over and over again, would you like this?'
    If your answer is yes, than you possess this 'amor fati', and eventually this acceptance of fate - which is nothing but life - leads to an existence not haunted by Schopenhauerian depression. That is to say, there is not an absence of suffering or tragedy, but rather an acceptance of it as being part of life.

    Indeed, pity and guilt themselves are silly conceptions. There has been suffering and tragedy in the past, and adds to this by feeling 'bad', by suffering yet again..

    Mr U
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    I'll interject with an observation (perhaps a false one, but here it is anyway...).

    It seems that the people that tell themselves "things could be worse" in their own time of need seem happier in general than those that are told this by others.

    Just a thought.

    Cheers
    "... the polhode rolls without slipping on the herpolhode lying in the invariable plane."
    ~Footnote in Goldstein's Mechanics, 3rd ed. p. 202
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  16. #15  
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    'There are people worse off than you'

    Of course there are, there are also people better off, richer, poorer, cleverer, dumber??, taller, shorter.bitter spillers
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