Why “It Could Be Worse” Is Never the Right Thing to Say
By Alisha Dhillon
Is there a worse phrase than “it could be worse?” Say you muster up the courage to tell someone what’s bothering you, only for him or her to respond with “it could be worse!” Who does that help? When did suffering become a competition?
I’m officially mere months away from graduation and the uncertainty that comes with the “real world” being so near has really begun to take a toll on me. This toll has manifested as bouts of anxiety and a shortage of patience towards those dear to me. I recently confided in a friend of mine regarding the mental effects of the imminence of my commencement ceremony, only for that friend to shrug and say “It could be worse” and then delve into their own problems. The interaction really bothered me and led me to spend time thinking about why I hated that phrase so much. I’ve come to the conclusion that the real problem made clear by the overuse of phrases like “It could be worse” is that people are refusing to empathize with one another. Instead of trying to see things from another’s perspective, they write off each other’s problems as insignificant because they don’t have the interest or capacity to try understanding why something is an issue. There’s no better way to say “I don’t care about your problems and your suffering is irrelevant” than by blurting, “It could be worse!” The phrase is stating the obvious; no one needs to hear it.
I'm not implying that it isn't important to be aware of the world’s issues, but I hate nothing more than hearing anyone’s problems minimized. We are allowed to be upset by our hardships! I'm not encouraging dwelling, just acceptance. In order to deal with our problems and move past them, we have to accept and work through them, not minimize or ignore them because they're "minor." If you're thinking about something so often that it's hindering your productivity, it's important. I don't care if that something is a boy being an asshat or your mom not spending enough time with you; if you are affected mentally, it's major.
The fact of the matter is there are worse things than my anxiety-producing fear of what will come after graduation. There are people all over the world who haven’t had the opportunities I’ve had in regards to education (amongst other things) and therefore, are too burdened by their own unfortunate circumstances to share my “first world problems.” That clearly carries more gravity on a world scale. But, just because I have personal worries, doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten about the issues plaguing the rest of the world. I know that it could be, and often is, worse. I don’t need to be told that when I’m seeking help with working through my own qualms. When I’m telling someone what’s upsetting me in my day-to-day life, I don’t want to be belittled for being affected by something that can be perceived by a stranger as insignificant. I’m not complaining to strangers, I’m complaining to my friends who should be willing to empathize!
Just ten seconds of tuning into the news, in whatever forum, will make it clear that there are larger, more widely effective issues at play in the big picture. But what many people forget sometimes is that the little picture has to be resolute before we can attempt to better the big picture. So when a friend is whining about schoolwork or relationship problems, let’s remember a time that we were equally melodramatic (face it, we’ve all been here) and tell our friends that it’s okay to freak out sometimes as long as the meltdown is followed by a decision to better things. Humor them by participating in their pity party for a little while, and then together, you can brainstorm ways to remedy their problems. We can help each other become stronger and ready to face the “larger” issues by listening and empathizing with one another instead of simply dismissing worries that aren’t overtly earth shattering. If they’re relevant or pressing, share your own worries with your friends who are confiding in you. Allow them to be comfortable and feel like they’re not the only ones who are undergoing turmoil. We’ve entered a time where unity is being tested daily and if we want to retain any hope for humanity’s compassion, we have to “get the ball rolling” by taking the time to at the very least be empathetic towards our friends.