The power of considering the plight of others

FRUItFUL: Instead of obsessing about our own problems, we'd do better to turn our attention outwards. Picture: Shutterstock
FRUItFUL: Instead of obsessing about our own problems, we'd do better to turn our attention outwards. Picture: Shutterstock

THERE'S a Helen Keller quote that goes: "I cried because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet." Not a lot of help to us who haven't met someone lately with no feet.

My sadness often comes from the opposite direction. When I was a boy, I was pretty happy with my new running shoes - a brand new pair of Dunlop KT26s ... until I got to school and saw the other kids had Adidas and Nike.

Thankfully, I got older and was happy I could afford a pair of Dr Marten's boots ... until I met a man at a party wearing RM Williams. They ought not be allowed to make boots that cost $500!

It didn't help that this man was also wearing cooler clothes than me.

And it appears his boots gave him unwarranted confidence as he thought he was so much funnier than I was ... and so did everyone else at that party, unfortunately.

Today, I have no problems. Well, I do, but people expect that as a priest, you're supposed to be above complaining about them. Maybe they're right, because whenever I do complain about my problems it backfires.

Recently, I was telling a couple of men at a dinner how when I was a boy, my mother could pick me out from more than 300 children at a school Mass because I had the darkest hair.

But today, having such dark hair is extremely annoying as sometimes people think you dye your hair.

I was so engrossed in telling this story that I neglected to notice one of these men was grey and the other was bald. No wonder their eyes weren't also getting misty on hearing this sad tale.

From the moment we wake and groan that we're hungry but don't want to have to prepare breakfast, to the last annoyance at night - laying in bed wondering why nobody is posting anything interesting on Facebook or Instagram this late - we face hundreds of "first-world problems".

Even then as we lie in bed, drifting off to sleep after a day of problems, we have to face the problem that one pillow is too low to sleep on, but two pillows is too high. And this side of the pillow is already getting too warm anyway.

Does God care about our first-world problems?

Does God care if we are annoyed about being stuck in traffic when other people in other countries have been unjustly imprisoned for years?

Does God care that we have a sore finger after cutting our nails too short when people on the other side of the world are being massacred? Because God cares for us, God cares if we care.

First-world problems are still problems. However, it is not these problems that are annoying us, but rather our judgement of them. American psychologist and psychotherapist Albert Ellis said this understanding guided the development of cognitive behavioural therapy.

If we constantly focus our attention on the lives of those that appear to have better lives than ours, life will be one big disappointment after the next.

I think that we should be looking in the opposite direction.

Perhaps we were meant to shift our focus and concern to those who have less than us.

Perhaps that's why we feel so good when we help the less fortunate, and so guilty when we don't.

Leila Abdallah, the Sydney mother who lost three of her six children when they were tragically killed by a drunk driver was last week named mother of the year. Mrs Abdallah dedicated her award to all women grieving the loss of a child.

The Abdallah family tragedy is a confronting reminder that there are others out there carrying grief far greater than ours.

The recent case of media personality Bert Newton having to have his leg amputated suggests that Helen Keller's advice is still valid after all.

Every so often, focus your attention on the problems of others. Many are fighting a battle harder than you.

Twitter: @frbrendanelee

This story Midweek Musings | The power of considering the plight of others first appeared on The Canberra Times.