A First World Problem

A First World Problem – I often use the phrase, I found myself doing it this morning when I was chatting about our building work. We’ve had no kitchen for the last 5 months, cooking on a two ring portable hob and washing up in a small bowl sink in the back of the garage. I keep referring to it as a ‘First World Problem’ but, ‘am busy with so many other things that while it’s not ideal, it’s not occupying my every waking thought. I’m also well aware that I’m lucky to be getting a brand new kitchen when, with the danger of sounding self-righteous, others are living in war zones or have no access to clean water let alone a lovely new oven.

But when we get caught up in the moment of our own stress we’re not always able to stop ourselves from finding relatively minor issues to be major problems. I travelled into London on a packed train last week – what was normally a ten carriage train had been reduced to four. There was only room to stand. A lady got on with a bike and I initially felt irritated and almost commented on it ‘Not being allowed at that time of day’ but stopped myself. Of course she already knew and was clearly feeling very awkward already. Making a comment was not going to help in any way. It did however take a degree of conscious effort for me not to.

By the time we’d gone two stops further toward London people were getting really really narky (for want of a better word). Squashed like sardines inevitably someone got pushed, a business-man by a lady in her 50s. The man responded with ‘Well don’t say sorry then’ to which another guy behind him said ‘That’s my mum you’re talking to’ I couldn’t have made it up – from there it all kicked off. The lady with the bike and I attempted to calm things down. It was a lot harder than you’d expect with a group of well-dressed business people. Tempers were running high!

Once things had finally reduced to a fizz (the air was still thick) the lady with the bike turned and said to me, ‘And meanwhile in Syria’ – yes, this truly was a first world problem. It turned out that the lady with the bike, Jane, is an aid worker who has seen many places and things that fall way beyond the issues facing a few commuters on a train into work. She said she’s always amazed by the way people behave when she returns to London from war zones and crises situations. People’s daily irritations taking on a far more monumental scale than rationality would predict. In the moment, everyone is seemingly oblivious to the issues going on in more despairing countries of the world.

Why is that? If you asked people you’d find that they are aware and they do care. But we are ‘just’ humans being human. I refer back to the point made in earlier blogs, that while we may live in an advanced world, we still have a very primitive brain. When confronted with a life threatening issue our fast thinking survival driven brain takes over. While it may seem that forgiving someone who accidently knocks you when there is no room to move seems like a trivial matter, it’s not to our brain. We automatically view other people in our space as a threat. Our brain is in effect pre-wired for a time when anyone that we didn’t know that close to us meant life or death. In our ancestors time, when our brain stopped evolving, the population was so spread out that we’d of been very unlikely to suddenly come that close to someone we didn’t know, unless they were trying to kill us. Our rational brain knows that it’s ‘silly’, getting to work on time or sitting on the train is indeed a ‘First World Problem’, but our rational brain is slower to operate. It takes effort to engage and by the time it’s engaged we’re so worked up (as a result of our faster reacting more primitive part of our brain) that we’re rationalizing our ‘first world’ behaviour as being justified, rather than talking ourselves out of it.

 I had to take a step back and remind myself that bringing a bike onto the train in rush hour, in the grand scheme of things really didn’t matter. As a result I’ve met a new and interesting person. Jane and I are trying to arrange to meet for a coffee. She’s rather tied up dealing with Haiti and the impacts of hurricane Matthew at the moment. Meanwhile I’m worrying about the little things in life –making sure the kids are taking the right stuff to school, checking that the electricians are putting sockets in the right place, keeping on top of the washing…….oh and writing my blog.

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Image courtesy of cnbc.com:




4 thoughts on “A First World Problem

  1. This is great Fiona! So refreshing that to hear that “the pause” can illuminate such needed clarity. I must remember to “pause” in those rush rush moments that consume the day. You wrote this beautifully, such an important message embedded in the comings and goings of everyday life. Thank you! xxoo, Tara

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