My wife was recently diagnosed with cancer.
My reaction is usually one of calm serenity. It’s a major issue, but it’s a resolvable one and we’ve no reason to expect long term problems from this.
But “cancer,” also known as “the c-word” is a scary word on its own. And every once in a while I have a little freak out about it until I can get my brain to move on to something else.
I’ve repeated “it’s not serious” or something like that over and over (and sometimes I even believe it) to kind of control others’ reactions to the news. I don’t want massive doses of sympathy. It’s not serious. We expect that they’ll take the offending thyroid out and she’ll be good (you know, other than adjusting to the medication). As cancers go, this one is pretty low key and easily curable. No chemo or anything like that.
So after, and sometimes while, freaking out I have this immense guilt.
The original White Man’s Burden was the moral imperative to spread culture to all those benighted people who had the misfortune of living somewhere other than Europe. It was well intentioned, but lets be honest, a lot of that European influence was not for the better. And it had the nasty problem of looking at any non-European as inherently inferior.
The New White Man’s Burden is where inconvenient, even bad things happen, but you feel guilty for freaking about it because it could be so much worse.
“We’re not in a third world country with no medical help and she doesn’t have a debilitating incurable cancer, so I should feel blessed instead of freaking out.”
Part of the problem is my Mormon Conscience (which is a lot like a Catholic Conscience except it can have more than one wife). I’ve had it beaten into me that I should be grateful all the time (and I should) and that excludes being nervous or concerned or sad about bad things (but it doesn’t — I just can’t get my reptile brain to believe it.
The real danger of the problem is less psychological and more sociological. It puts me in a situation where I’m in danger of feeling superior, and that “superiority” means I’m not allowed to feel human.
I don’t like this expression “First World problems.” It is false and it is condescending. Yes, Nigerians struggle with floods or infant mortality. But these same Nigerians also deal with mundane and seemingly luxurious hassles. Connectivity issues on your BlackBerry, cost of car repair, how to sync your iPad, what brand of noodles to buy: Third World problems. All the silly stuff of life doesn’t disappear just because you’re black and live in a poorer country. People in the richer nations need a more robust sense of the lives being lived in the darker nations. Here’s a First World problem: the inability to see that others are as fully complex and as keen on technology and pleasure as you are.
Read the linked article. It’s enlightening.
On the one hand, count your blessings. Be aware that you have it better off than many by the simple fact that you own two pairs of shoes and know where your next meal is coming from.
On the other hand, that doesn’t mean you’re better than those people, just your circumstances, a lot of which was just luck on your part. And guess what? Those problems you have are shared by other people.
Life on Easy Mode
How does this stand with John Scalzi’s thoughts on Straight White Male’s being on life’s easy mode? Well, I pretty much agree with Scalzi. No one has ever assumed I was dangerous or part of a gang. Partially because I’m not very fit but also because I’m a pale boy. In short, my conception of “New White Man’s Burden” has nothing to do with it.
Yeah, it’s easier here because I have access to modern medicine and insurance. But that doesn’t mean it can’t still scare the crap out of me. It just means I won’t win a “mine’s bigger/worse/scarier” pissing match with someone who doesn’t have access to those things. It means I should have hope, but having hope doesn’t mean that nothing bad is happening (nor does it mean that I believe nothing bad CAN happen).
In the end, it’s OK for me to have a little freak out. It doesn’t mean I think I’m in the worst of all possible scenarios. It doesn’t mean I believe I’m in a life-destroying situation.
It just means I’m worried and have to reign the more primitive parts of my imagination in.