Stop Trying to Win the Oppression Olympics

“I’m so tired. I slept only five hours last night!”

“Ugh, I wish I got that much sleep! I only slept two hours!’”

“I had such a bad day today. I did badly on my test.”

“Omg that’s not even as bad as my day. I missed my bus, failed my test and left my homework at home.”

Do either of these conversations sound familiar? At first glance, you might not notice anything wrong with these responses as the second person is trying to relate to the first. However, looking at it again, you can see how the second person is making the first person seem as if their problems are less important than their own.

Sometimes people do this without knowing and other times people do this willingly in an attempt to validate their own experiences by proving how difficult their life is. Truthfully, everyone is going through something! Whether you simply had a bad day, are going through a difficult time or have had to face constant hurdles that affect your daily life - each experience is valid. Yes, you may have had a bad day, but instead of making your friend feel as if you have it worse than them, listen to them and share your experience in a way that doesn’t bring them down. No one is going to award you for having “the most difficult life,” because we all experience difficulties.

Let’s try that conversation again.

“I’m so tired. I only slept five hours last night!”

“Omg, I didn’t sleep great either last night! I'll make sure you don’t fall asleep in class, if you make sure I don’t!”

“Ugh I had such a bad day. I did badly on my test.”

Ahh I’m sorry to hear that. Hopefully the rest of your day goes better. Maybe it’s Mercury being in retrograde because I feel like today’s energy is just not it...”

See! So much better! A simple acknowledgement of someone’s feelings about a situation can really go a long way. If you can relate to someone’s situation, I feel that it can be good to bring up how because it makes the other person feel like they aren’t alone. However, make sure that you aren’t taking away from what they are telling you.

Similarly, when talking to someone that you know faces struggles in certain areas, whether it’s their gender, race, sexual orientation, mental illness, socioeconomic status or family life, DO NOT try to tell them that their problems aren’t serious! You might experience something similar to someone else and have completely different reactions to it. You might also be unaware about the barriers that other people face, but this doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. Everyone’s experiences are different but that does not make them any less valid.

I feel that this is a crucial concept to understand in order to have a healthier community and is especially important in supporting marginalized communities. I’ve noticed that when different groups begin to advocate for themselves or spread awareness, people who aren’t a part of that group feel as if they need to be included or brush aside the experiences of individuals of a certain group. I’m sure some of you can relate to hearing the statements:

“Oh, I’m sure it wasn’t that bad”

I think you’re taking that out of context”

“What about my experiences?”

“Well, my life is tough too, but I don’t complain about it!”

People are guilty of using these responses to someone expressing their discomfort in a situation. This relates back to the idea that people sometimes dismiss others’ experiences because they simply don’t experience it themselves.

That leaves us with you. Where do you fit in? Maybe you can’t relate to someone’s experiences, maybe you experienced something difficult too but don’t talk about it or maybe you have some prejudices and biases that you need to work through. Whatever it is, remember that you can feel upset about what you go through without dismissing what someone else goes through. Someone else might also have a certain aspect of life that is harder than yours, but that doesn’t make your experience less valid.  Yes, life can feel like an endless amount of track and field hurdles and some of us have less barriers than others. Whatever your situation is, it’s important to take care of yourself by validating your own experiences and supporting others as much as you can!