Any Problem You Have I Can Have Worse

“Of course I don’t have kids yet, but-”

I have heard people preface their opinions with this, or with some version of this, more times than I can count.

And then the sentence ends with something along the lines of, “I’d like to raise my kids that way.”

It’s clear why people tack on this disclaimer; many, many times when someone offers their opinion on circumstances that they cannot personally relate to, someone else jumps down their throat with, “You have no idea what it’s like to have kids!” or “You’ve never been addicted to alcohol!” or “You’ve never had abusive parents!”

It puzzles me why we have come to assign ownership to social issues. It’s like the glow-in-the-dark tattoo at an exclusive club. Oh, you’ve never been raped? Then sorry, we can’t allow you to have an opinion on this subject. If you get any ideas to the contrary, the bouncer will set you straight.

This doesn’t make any sense. Get this: if only parents have the right to opinions about parenting then we are suggesting that people enter parenthood head-on without any prior opinions or beliefs on how to raise kids. That’s insanity. If you don’t yet have kids, please, please, form your opinions about them. Share your thoughts with me. I invite them. How else are you meant to effectively and successfully raise a family, if not with forethought? Just “wing it”? Oh, I’ve seen how that goes. Not pretty.

Long before you have children I encourage you to form a set of guiding principles or else everything goes to hell– and that comes with my personal guarantee, signed, stamped and notarized, if you like. Otherwise each little hiccup becomes an insurmountable battle of philosophies, fears, and impulses, within oneself and between any close family member. Yes, raising children is going to challenge you more than you thought possible, but this process only becomes exponentially more challenging if you aren’t guided by some big and easily identifiable principles.

We’re all petrified of being misunderstood, of having our pain and strife belittled. But there is such a colorful variety of factors in life– genetic, social, economical. With that in mind, what are the odds we’ll ever meet someone that has gone through exactly what we have gone through? Unless we’re willing to accept those odds and sentence ourselves to a lifetime of being alone and misunderstood (ironically the thing we were trying to avoid), we have to stop requiring people to own the same life experience before accepting that they care about us.

Or you can choose Option A. Just keep hitting people on the head with 2 x 4s every time they express an opinion on any life event of yours. They may not have the same flavor of hurt as you, but I promise you, there is more than enough pain to go around. Difficulty and hardship enter everyone’s life.

And we are all perfectly capable of extrapolation. Sure, I’ve never been a drug addict but I kind of have an idea of how it goes after sitting through all those D.A.R.E classes in grade school: it really blows. And I’m not minimizing the struggle.

Okay, I’m being a slightly facetious but what I am mocking is our unwillingness to say that we understand without being able to brandish the label. I’ve been addicted to a great many other things in my life. Seriously addicted. If we truly had no idea what it was like, then what enable us to make the decision not to use? We’ve got some clue, if not every detail.

I’ve offered emotional support and counsel to rape victims without having been sexually abused myself. Pain is pain. In fact sometimes people even need an outside opinion, a clear view from someone who is not completely swamped alongside them.

You may not have ever experienced depression or suicidal tendencies but here’s how hard it is to relate: Imagine having a really bad day. Now imagine that bad day never ending.

And it doesn’t get harder than that.

It’s very probable that you will have quite a good deal of misinformation about quite a good deal of issues. When that’s the case, I can only hope that some parent or alcoholic or what have you, has the presence of mind to offer you the pertinent information rather than a volley of criticism. How else are we meant to correct and refine our beliefs?

If we indulge in this mindless and instinctual game of “Who’s Life Sucks More?” we will not win. For each of these struggles we need solutions and we need support– something that can be achieved only in unity.

So please, think, muse, mull over, philosophize and tell me what you come up with. And when someone speaks with you similarly, rather than seeing it as an encroachment on your territory, perhaps you will see it as an opportunity to teach and learn. With open minds, both are possible.

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