About a month ago an invitation went out to the SafePlace staff. They were giving away free chair and table sets made for kids. As the father of a one year-old I jumped at the opportunity. This was handmade, solid wood furniture made locally. The man who had crafted them had passed away leaving back a garage full of unsold, boxed inventory.
It sounds strange to say that there are perks working at a sexual assault and domestic violence center. We’re lucky when Trader Joe’s brings us perfectly good food they feel is bad, or when Snap Kitchen supplies us with boxes of fresh healthy meals, or when a bakery brings us trash bags full of fresh artisan breads. This was different.
It was a good problem to have. SafePlace had so many sets of tables and chairs they extended the offer beyond our clients to include staff. This rare opportunity brought me to the warehouse before I even finished reading the email that explained the situation.
When I arrived at the warehouse I was greeted by a very kind volunteer. He was an older gentlemen and an obviously gentle man. He spoke softly and with patience. His aged grey beard made me feel like it earned him respect in an “I’ve experienced the world” kind of way.
He showed me to the chairs and began helping me open the dusty boxes. He watched as I took my time contemplating out loud, “Red or blue, hmmm. Which color do I want”?
When his laugh caught my attention, he looked straight into my eyes and said, “First world problem”.
I popped like a balloon and tried my hardest to act normal and hide my shame.
Although he had delivered the statement with a humorous tone, it had quickly exposed my privilege. My discomfort grew and followed me around all day. I began to notice even more examples of these “problems” I was experiencing.
With the intention of accountability I decided to make a list to highlight the ridiculousness of these problems. Whether these are experiences we share or ones I solemnly hold on my own, it is my hope that this confessional may assist you in identifying your own privilege and be grateful for the daily pleasures we indulge in.
Dave’s First World Problems | Top 10 list
Soggy French fries
Canceled yoga class
Deciding where to eat out
Caught up on DVR
When my touch-screen responds slowly
Drive through lines are too long
Rising gas prices and traffic
My ice cream melted too quickly
Produce at Whole Foods is too expensive
Stomach aches from eating too much at night
I’ll stop there as I fear I may break a record if I continue.
That said, I never did get the table and chairs. The offer to staff was over-extended and I was asked to return the items to be filtered back to our clients. In truth, the table and chair set was not a need of mine, rather – a want. My overwhelming excitement to move quickly on the offer was a result of years of cultural training that I should take what I want with assertive persistence.
This issue extends far past my first world citizenship. In addition, I won the privilege lottery. I was born a white male to an educated and upper-middle class family. In an effort to keep your attention I will cite just one example of how this plays out.
When exploring the inequities of the education system, Iowa Senator Tom Harkin states,
“A high income, low performing student has an 80% chance of attending college. A low-income, high performing student has only a 20% chance of attending college. That’s inexcusable.”
Senator Harkin is right, that is inexcusable and explains how I was able to get to graduate school with sub-par grades throughout my life. Truth is, I was lucky. I was lucky to make it so far through second, third and fourth chances.
I am thankful that I learned the value of hard work and treasure my role as a professional, family man, and father – but it is time to stop whining over a soggy order of French fries.
With this awareness I hope to better balance and appreciate the difference between wants and needs and replace my self-deceiving first world and privileged concerns with gratefulness and gratitude.
A couple of perspectives on First World Problems…