While the Foreign Service life is no longer mine to complain about, I do follow the events and issues. The potential of directed assignments to Iraq brought out a litany of “wussy diplomat” complaints, comparisons to “the troops” who endure much greater suffering than diplomats, and so on. If a diplomat is going to be forced to spend a year in Iraq without family or security training, well, that’s sad. But the benefits and bonus pay are good, and it’s only for a year instead of the standard fifteen month deployment. So it's better to be a diplomat than a soldier.
I’m not going to delve into foreign policy, because I don’t know or care enough. But it’s a good jumping-off point for what I do want to talk about.
I find it very tiresome when people play “Problem Poker.” In school, if I had three hours of homework, someone else would see my three hours and raise me a school play rehearsal. The game would continue until someone folded. And that dynamic continued into my adult life: someone else always has it better, and someone else always has it worse. If I’m broke, someone else is looking at foreclosure or swarms of locusts.
After all, if life looks a little rough for a friend, then why not offer a little perspective? Compare that bad day on the job to the troops, starving kids in Africa, the homeless, slavery, or even the Holocaust. Those are cruelly unethical responses: how can someone respond to an invocation of sacred suffering without being a complete and total jerk? (“My boss is meaner than a drought in Ethiopia!”)
Most people know they’re lucky. Most people know that life can turn on them in an instant, and they should appreciate what they have. The world is big and scary, and we each do what we can to make it smaller and safer. Reinforcing that point is, well, pointless.
Things can always be worse, and, yes, they can also get better. If you insist on keeping score, no one is ever going to win. If all you can offer is perspective, you aren’t offering anything at all. Next time, try compassion.