Everyday Ethics

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Ever heard the phrase, “High Class Problems”? As I understand it, it refers to those who bitch and moan about their woes, when they really have it pretty good. In other words, if you look in the dictionary, you’ll find a picture of little old me.


Like, recently, I’ve been whinging about this temp job I accepted. I told a friend the other day, “OMG, a monkey could do this job. Only, a monkey would throw feces at the screen to break up the tedium.”


Deep down I know I’m lucky to have the assignment. The economy’s so scary right now, it’s no time to be looking a gift gig in the paycheck. People like me who have no gratitude should really go suck it.


In fact, Paddy and I were talking about this subject the other day in regards to a mutual friend, who annoyed us both when, just as we were bemoaning our meager salaries, he asked our opinion on whether he should buy a new house in the Hamptons or Fire Island.


But it made me think about how easily we can envy what others have, and even, sometimes, lose friendships over it. When there’s an inequity between friends, there’s often a strain, from vacations one can take while the other can only admire the snapshots afterward, to babies and husbands/wives that give one friend grief, while the other longs just to have those babies or that spouse to bitch about. Left untouched, those resentments can fester…


Or do they?


Paddy and I disagreed a bit on how to ethically (and delicately) handle this topic, when it’s someone in your sphere whose high class problems are getting your goat. I argued it’s best to gently tell the person you’re struggling to relate to their issues, and that you know their problems are as real to them as yours are to you, but that honestly, envy is making it difficult for you to tolerate their incessant/oblivious ranting about how their diamonds came back from the cleaners just filthy and their lotto winnings were only millions and not billions. I suggested the way to go is to ask your friend for a bit of delicacy and mutual understanding of individual circumstances, while assuring them of your continuing love and affection. Basically, I’m all for open dialogue. Even if your friend is offended… well, at least you’re not stewing internally.


I’ll let Paddy share her wisdom and perspective here.


–Hillary, signing off.





Oh, I’m right there with you Hillary, on the internal sense of frustration and, well, snarkiness, that’s often the result of these “high class problems.” 

Still, I do think there exists an ethical high road, and I do believe we should try to take it. Humans are full of personal foibles, and we must judge problems not on how they rate against our own troubles, but individually. When a friend approaches us for sympathy, we should react according to that specific person at that specific time and place.

An example: One night in New Zealand, sitting in a tiny bar in a tiny town, a close friend and I wasted an entire night debating this topic. We were discussing a mutual acquaintance, a brilliant and beautiful girl who happened to have been overweight once upon a time. This brilliant and beautiful girl was also a bit annoying – her insecurities over past weight issues seemed to manifest themselves into an obsession with her appearance: “Omigod that guy is obsessed with me,” “Those guys were soooo annoying, they just kept coming up to me to tell me how beautiful I am!” (While I don’t exactly consider myself a hag in the looks department, I’m also not batting off hordes of men who feel compelled to tell me how gorgeous I am. So you can imagine how nauseating these “problems” got after, oh, about two minutes.)

Back to that bar in New Zealand, my friend and I were arguing over the validity of this girl’s problems. My friend didn’t give a flying flip if the girl had been a whale in the past — she was beautiful and brilliant now and she should be grateful for what she had. In her view, there were millions of people suffering all over the world and how dare Miss Narcissistic be so self-involved. To a certain extent, I completely agreed. The girl in question was admittedly petty and self-involved. But, I argued, we are human. Those millions of people suffering from famine, war, homelessness — they too have petty problems. They also worry if a boy likes them, they have moments when they think they’re too fat or too skinny, they’re envious of their neighbors…it’s all part of humanity.


Problems are all relative, and I don’t think we can judge our friends or reflect our envy based on a personal standard of living. After all, that would mean I could only be a shoulder to cry on for those who are worse off than myself. And if that’s the case, I need to start making some friends who are bankrupt, widowed and hunchbacked ASAP.


Besides, in all likelihood, there’s someone out there thinking, “At least she was in New Zealand ‘wasting’ her night” or perhaps even, “At least they have friends”!




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