Hey, well at least you’re not [fill in the blank with whatever tragic situation comes to mind, e.g. “starving to death,” “homeless,” etc.] It could be worse.
How many times have we each heard those words of “wisdom” when complaining of our troubles, or offered them to others who are suffering? “Be grateful,” we say, “that at least you’re not as bad off as so-and-so or such-and-such.” Maybe even we tell it to ourselves to calm (or correct) our own personal anguish!
This technique is faulty in at least two ways. First, it criticizes the sufferer as being ungrateful, unaware, and exaggerated in his response to personal pain. This not-so-subtle critique says, “Get over yourself! Can you not see that your troubles are nothing?” This comforts no one. Generally, when someone is in pain, he needs understanding and compassion, not an emotional scourging.
Second, it assumes that people will be encouraged by the thought that things could be worse than they already are. We have this twisted idea that the knowledge that things have not reached their nadir should make us feel better about our current woes. Somehow, to know that, yes, there is still further to fall and more to lose, that conditions could deteriorate further, will give us hope and lighten our burden. But, this too, is the antithesis of comfort. When we feel bad the last thing we need to hear is that things could get worse. Yes, perhaps they could, but living in dread of such an outcome is beneficial to no one.
Let us discard these words of false comfort, replacing them instead with listening ears that allow others the dignity of having their personal pain validated.