Happy Thanksgiving

I’ve been thinking this week about how a recent Web meme applies to Thanksgiving and Chestnut Hill.

Whoa, what’s a Web meme? A Web meme is an Internet phenomenon, a catchphrase or image that spreads around the Internet and is quickly adopted by millions. Web memes are the idiomatic expressions of Internet dialect, the trade lingo of millions of Twitter and Tumblr addicts around the world.

The one I’m thinking of is “first world problems,” which has been around for a while but has really picked up use in the last year. It’s an ironic way of acknowledging that much of what we complain about isn’t a real problem at all.

The way the meme works is this: if you complain about something like your Starbucks coffee being too hot or a favorite TV show not available in HD, you acknowledge the complaint by calling it a first world problem. Twitter users can check out the hash tag #firstworldproblems and watch the stream of pointless whining flow in real time.

As I type this, two perfect examples have just popped up: “I bought a new container for my spaghetti, but my spaghetti is too tall” and “I left my phone at home. Devastated.”

In Chestnut Hill, while real world problems are easy to find, most of us complain and argue about first world problems. We’re outraged about having to pay a dollar an hour to park. We’re horrified that developers want to build six-story buildings. We get grumpy about bright lights and disgruntled over unattractive signs. We talk about things like property values and quality of life as if these things can actually be taken from us when in reality, they really can’t.

Now one way to look at that kind of first world problem debate is that it really is the folly of the privileged. Too much money and comfort and too much time. And there’s definitely an element of truth to that. How many would feel blessed if their biggest problem was that they might lose a little value on their $1 million estate?

There’s another-way to look at that, though. First world problems may not be “real” problems, but they are problems all the same. If you don’t pay attention to little things, they could add up to be much bigger things.

Attention to detail is what helped a neighborhood like Chestnut Hill become what it is. If you dismissed those concerns as trivial, you’d have a hard time creating the kind of careful framework that preserves historic buildings and properties that make Chestnut Hill an enjoyable place to live and visit.

The important thing, and perhaps the thing that is too often missed in debate about these things, in Chestnut Hill and everywhere else, is a sense of proportion. We too often talk about first world problems as if they were matters of life and death, when clearly they are not. First world problems are just that. They’re not disasters waiting to strike. Nothing will be destroyed and all will not be lost.

So to get back to Thanksgiving (and to keep this column both topical and timely) I don’t think first world problems are something we should be ashamed of having. I think having and caring about first world problems is really a luxury for which we should all be thankful.

Just remember that the next time you get upset because you’re neighbor hasn’t raked his leaves again this year and they’re all going to blow on your front yard before the next leaf pickup, that it could be so much worse.

Pete Mazzaccaro


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