I am noticing a new social trend at the moment, the trend of ‘My Situation Is Worse Than Yours’. It’s a strange new level of competitive behaviour, where instead of wanting to be in the best situation possible, some people appear to be yearning to win the misery prize for worst place, not first place.
This is bred from comparison. The same comparison that used to lead to keeping up with the Joneses, now leads to the metaphorical printing of invitations for a Pity Party. These are then passed around to acquaintances, or, better yet, people who have been in a similar situation. Only it won’t matter what has happened in life to those that are invited, because nothing will be as bad as the person who is at the epicentre of Pity Party Central.
Personally, I cannot begin to comprehend how people can compare their situations to those of others in this manner. Surely life is subjective and relative, whatever has happened to one person will always affect them differently to someone else, and for different reasons? Different emotions will be involved, different family circumstances, and different prior life experiences – some of which, we may know nothing about. There is no Miseryometer. It’s a bit like when women try to out-pain each other with their birth stories; who gives a rat’s backside how much pain relief you didn’t have, as long as your baby’s out safe and well?
A friend said to me recently that she has taken to not offering up information about herself when she bumps into someone that she knows, preferring instead to wait and see whether or not her own current welfare is asked after. It struck me as incredibly sad, and a tad mind-boggling, when she told me that actually, nobody turned around and said, “And how are you?”
It’s dangerous really, because this leads to a dismissive attitude to the plight of others, and it must take a particular kind of selfishness to point out to a person that whatever they’ve been through or are going through, isn’t a touch on the kind of horrors you’re currently suffering, or have suffered in the past. It certainly isn’t a way to garner sympathy. But I wonder if these people are more intent on garnering pity? For most of us, pity is a word with patronising and belittling connotations, whereas sympathy or compassion are born of true human feeling and emotion.
Perhaps it’s old-fashioned these days to simply listen to a friend, empathise if you’ve been through a similar time, and sympathise with how downright horrible it must be for them. Maybe it’s not de rigueur to offer advice or help or simply a listening ear, or to let that person know that they are loved, and this will pass. But, old-fashioned or not, I’ll be sticking with it. And if you’re currently having an horrendous time of things, yet find yourself surrounded by people who are intent on continually pointing out that their experiences of unemployment, or bereavement, or umpteen other awful life situations that occur for millions each and every day, are somehow worse than yours, then pity them more than they pity themselves.
First published in The Portsmouth News, Tuesday 3rd November 2015