One Million Things that Almost Everyone Understands and Don’t Make Anyone As Special As He’d Like To Be

You’ve seen them. They are everywhere. The lists of things that apparently only one tiny subset of society understands or experiences? If you don’t know what I’m talking about, here are a few:

23 Problems Only Yoga People Will Understand

20 Jokes Only Intellectuals Will Understand

21 Problems Only People With Long Hair Understand

21 Problem Only Women With Big Boobs Will Understand

10 Things Only People With Attention Problems Will Understand

26 Struggles Only People Who Are Perpetually Hungry Will Understand

Don’t worry, there are thousands more.

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Now, I don’t have a problem with people posting these lists on facebook, or their preferred social media outlet. But let’s call them what they are.

These lists are most often just poor attempts to present ourselves as different, and special, and struggling, and lonely, and marginalized in ways that we are not.

Let me be clear. I have no problem with the desire to identify oneself with a particular subset of society. I have no problem with compiling and sharing a list of problems, or struggles, or whatever that are common to a particular group of people.

But that isn’t what is occurring in these lists. 

The title is not “10 problems common to people in these given circumstances,” but “10 problems only people in these given circumstances understand.” And that, my big-breasted, long-haired, yoga-doing friend, is almost never the case. But before you go and write a list of 10 things only people who hate The Indisputable Dirt understand, let’s clarify a couple things.

1. Most people “understand” these things you claim only you and a small number of other people understand. In fact, anyone with a basic knowledge of the English language, and the ability to reason at all can understand the problematic nature of the circumstances outlined in the majority of these lists. Most people understand the difficulty of sweating on one’s yoga mat. Maybe they have not personally experienced a sweaty yoga mat during yoga class, but they understand the slippery predicament that arises from the circumstance. They may not be able to empathize with you, but unless they lack the cognitive skill common to most humans over the age of 6, they can sympathize.

Of course, I know what people will say. “That’s not what we meant. Sure, most people can understand the difficulties that accompany having big breasts, but you can’t fully understand unless you’ve lived with them.”

Yes. Fine. Understanding is an issue of degree as well as kind. Someone with long hair likely understands the struggles of having long hair more fully than someone who doesn’t have long hair because she/he has knowledge of experience as well as knowledge through reason. But if we’re demanding complete understanding, then no one should be posting these lists at all, because no one completely understands anything to its fullest extent. There is always more to know about a situation, even if you experience it on a daily basis. You may understand problems associated with being a tall girl more than me because I am of average height, but we both understand them, and we both understand them incompletely.

Which brings me to the more significant problem with these lists.

2. These things are almost never actually singular to the designated group. Skipping over the hyperbolic nature of the assertion that no bathing suits ever fit women with large breasts (really? Because I see a lot of big breasted women on beaches, and advertisements in bikinis that seem to fit very, very well), the claim that only large-breasted women deal with ill-fitting bathing suits is simply false. Lots of women (and men) struggle to find bathing suits that fit well. This is a common problem in a world where most bathing suits come in 3 sizes. Some women experience it more, some women experience it less, but lots of women of a variety of breast sizes experience it.

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And this is the error made in most of these lists: the attempt to claim for a single subset of people something that applies to a lot of people—often most people.

20 Jokes only intellectuals will understand? Guess what, you don’t have to be an intellectual to understand why a Roman ordering 5 beers by holding up two fingers is funny. All you need to know is that “V” is the Roman numeral for the number five.

You don’t have to be perpetually hungry to hate watching other people eat while waiting for your food at a restaurant. You just have to have been hungry, or impatient at a restaurant at some point in your life.

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I wonder what people who are ACTUALLY perpetually hungry think of this list.

You don’t have to have long hair to fear getting haircuts.

You don’t have to have attention problems in order to know the frustration of not being able to find your car keys.

What these lists amount to are rather poor attempts to draw a line between your struggles, and everyone else’s where there is no line. Don’t get me wrong, the line exists—just not where you are drawing it. You are special and different and have your own personal set of problems, ironically, just like everyone else. Just usually not in the dramatic and sweeping fashion outlined in the majority of these lists.

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4 comments

  1. These lists are really working overtime to parse humans. And they also let people know that sympathy is just not enough for these folks. We need to hang our heads in abject shame for our inability to truly empathize with their plight. One thing people can’t understand about people who tire of trite lists….oh, never mind.

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  2. This is completely true. Understanding and empathizing are two completely different things, and it is possible to empathize even if you have not experienced something personally because humans are capable of understanding the problems that others face. And even if I understand something, that does not mean I’ll empathize with the individual who believes I am incapable of understanding.

    In many cases, I’ll probably think that the problems they are identifying are silly. We all face times when it is hard to find properly fitting clothes or we are impatient at a restaurant. It is silly to assume that others cannot understand just because their experiences are slightly different.

    Like

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