Monday, August 22, 2011

Life Is Hard - But Not As Bad As That Guy

I'm been pondering something and I want to get the readers' opinions. Hopefully this will turn into a meaningful discussion.

Everyone has tzaros (difficulties) in life, and no one really understands how hard/bad it may be for another person unless we've been "in their shoes" and experienced the exact same thing, such as, lo aleinu, the death of a parent, broken engagement, life-threatening illness/injury, etc. And even then, circumstances are never exactly the same, so while there may be some similarity and identification/empathy, everyone's experiences are still unique.

It doesn't really serve us well to compare ourselves to people we know, especially in areas where they find success and we struggle. We can become jealous, and the relationship can fester in many vile ways as we attempt to regain some positive self-worth belief in ourselves.

But what about the flip side of the coin?

I have a friend I've known since high school, but haven't really seen in a long time, and they happened to friend me on Facebook right after I joined during my first year at YU. We don't really ever interact, but I've noticed consistently from their status updates/notes in the past several years that their life seems to always be falling apart due one disaster after another on a fairly regular basis. Some crises are brought on by obviously bad decisions that could have been avoided and others unexpected and uncontrolled. I often wonder why they won't ever learn from their mistakes, whether it is related to relationships, family, school or otherwise - and I also feel bad for the suffering they experience, regardless if it is self-fulfilled or not.

There really isn't anything I can do for the person - and I've tried to contact them on an occasion or two, but nothing can be accomplished. They also live far away and have basically cut themselves off from the Jewish community they grew up in and their family. So here I am, watching this train wreck go on and on - and on and on - and I can only feel pity for them.

In times when I think I'm having a bad day, when school is tough, my learning isn't so good, I wake up late for davening, or procrastinate too much on my work (or anything else you can think of), I am often confronted with another one of this friend's disastrous life events as soon as I sign onto Facebook. I immediately take a mental step back and think to myself, "Wow, my life really isn't so bad after all." I will think about the abundance of brachos that HaShem has showered upon ASoG and I and feel how truly fortunate we are in the major areas in life, realizing that the things that are "bad" are actually pretty insignificant in the overall big picture.

But is this a proper thing to do?

I'm not aggrandizing myself over my forlorn friend, like pointing and haughtily turning my nose up at the guy who came 20 minutes late to Shacharis when I arrived 15 minutes late, thinking "I still beat that guy, look how late he got here!" That's obviously a tactic of the yetzer hara to get us accustomed to our improper practices by making us feel better because we've put someone down.

I don't look at this person and say to myself, "Boy, at least I never made that mistake! How stupid are they?" I just read these sad stories and turn inward, recognizing the Yad HaShem and the gifts I'm given on a daily basis.

While the end result, which I feel is a proper mussar lesson - being thankful for all the HaShem has given me while being uplifted when I'm troubled - I feel like I got there by taking a dirty alleyway. Instead of reading a mussar sefer, I hear about this nebach person and receive inspiration, which just feels wrong.

So, what do you think?


  1. No matter what is going on in your matter how hard things are or how much you're suffering, there's always someone who has it worse. If that's your way of being able to see your blessings...go for it. How is that bad?

  2. The highest level is the one where a person needs no reminders to keep in mind how good things are.
    The second highest level is the one where a person does need some reminders, like someone to tell them how lucky they are.
    The third highest level is the one where a person is reminded through seeing another person's misfortunes that he doesn't have it so bad.

  3. There was a time in my life several years ago when things were not so great and I would look at other people and think, "How could they not be happy? Their life is amazing in compared to mine!"

    I think we all do what you do- compare our lives to the lives of other people and see those who are worse off and feel grateful that our life is B"H much better. Having practical, relatable examples of things that could be going wrong for us, is much easier than trying to think of random bad things that we don't know anyone going through.

    The bottom line is: There is a difference between being happy with your life / appreciating the good things versus being happy that someone else is experiencing misfortune. You're not happy because his life is worse than yours, it doesn't fill you with joy to know that he is miserable, but rather his misfortune is a reminder of how bad your life could be, and how much you have to be grateful for. There is nothing wrong with that.

  4. I wrote something semi-similar to this, about pitying others. You are more than welcome to check out my thoughts and also the conversation that followed:

  5. Mystery Woman - I appreciate your response, but it doesn't really resolve the internal dilemma...

    Mighty Garnel Ironheart - very interesting. Where did you discover this list?

    Sterngrad - I think your perspective works best with my thought processes. I like your distinction.

    ZP - I'll check it out. Thank you!


Comments are welcome, and greatly encouraged! I certainly want to foster open discussion, so if you have something to say about anything I've written, don't hesitate! I also greatly enjoy comments/critiques of my stories. But please, no spam.