Hammers and Hangnails
A couple weeks back our Saul DeGraw wrote a piece called Life Under Quarantine where he relayed some of his thoughts and observations about this weird time in which we live.
This was one of the comments:
This commenter wrote a whole chain of these remarks, and they were quite witty. They would have made for a marvelous standalone piece, scathing social commentary, one I would have praised to the skies. But the way they were presented, as comments on an individual author’s article and in response to other commenters who chimed in to commiserate with the author, rankled me.
One of my personal pet peeves is when a person has a problem in this world, and ok maybe it’s not the HUGEST problem ever, but it’s irritating and painful to them, and someone chimes in to mock or correct them, telling them they don’t have it that bad, that it could always be worse, yadda yadda yadda.
Now, this may surprise you since I write regularly about how terrible things were in the past and how we should look at our ancestors with more sympathy and understanding, and also that we who live in modern times should have a greater appreciation for the miraculous age in which we live. But those are observations in the general sense. Food for thought. Not a personal rebuke directed at any one person. When I write that type of article, I’m not intentionally coming out swinging against a specific individual.* I’m simply trying to provide historical and cultural perspective OVERALL, for people to think about or not as they so choose, instead of as a personal attack designed to embarrass someone.
I just find it rather unkind when people say “hey, I’m struggling right now” and the response is to pile on.
If you hit your thumb with a hammer, it hurts. It doesn’t matter in that moment if there are people with thumb cancer or people born without thumbs or people whose thumbs are withering away from malnutrition in Outer Absurdistan. You still feel pain, great pain, even if you know that pain will go away in time, even if you know it’s not literally the worst thing that has ever happened in human history. It hurts and people should respect that and provide comfort when their fellow human being is in pain, even if way down deep inside you don’t think it’s THAT big of a deal. And if you really can’t provide comfort, if their complaints are so minor that you just can’t even with that, then just walk away. Say nothing. Saying nothing is always an option. It is human nature to reach out to others when you’re in pain, when you’re scared, when you feel isolated, and that should not be an opening for some jerk to come in with another hammer and whack that thumb again.
Are there people out there who may be complaining a little TOO much sometimes? Sure. Should we all count our blessings way more than we do? Absolutely. I agree that there are many folks out there who are in dire need of a little perspective. But surely this perspective doesn’t need to be in the form of a personal attack or a public rebuke – from which no one has ever learned anything from anyway. Personal attacks are made not to teach or inform, but to make the attacker feel a temporary frisson of pleasure at the expense of another, and I am of the opinion that personal attacks about people’s coronavirus/quarantine anxiety are yet another pleasure we should probably forgo right now.
I think we can probably all agree the coronavirus quarantine is a lousy situation to find ourselves in, even if it is not the literally worst thing that has ever happened to a human being, even if the things we are mourning are as minor as the ability to purchase street tacos. And even a hangnail hurts. Complaining about small, relatable pains – hangnails and paper cuts and sunburns and mosquito bites and feeling awkward at parties and chomping down on the inside of our cheek really bad 17 times in a row – is one of those things that brings us together as human beings. We have all experienced pain, and loss, and fear, it sucks and it’s part of the human condition to seek sympathy from others when we’re hurting.
The last thing anyone needs right now is a big squeeze of lemon juice rubbed into their wounds.
*I admit I’m not perfect and have not always been a paragon of virtue on this site or on Twitter. Please respect me trying to do something positive here rather than take the opportunity to pedantically go back and screenshot things I’ve said that I probably shouldn’t have. I admit I don’t always live up to my lofty goals, but at least I have them.