Not so long ago I was watching the news with a young male relative when a story came on about a flood in a southern state and the immense amount of damage it was doing. We watched in silence as videos of gushing rivers, streets filled with water, and houses with only their rooftops showing filled the screen while people were shown crying as they grieved what they had lost.
“What a nightmare,” I commented. “Can you imagine what that’s like? Oh, those poor people. I feel so sorry for them.”
“Sucks to be them,” my young male relative grunted in response.
I didn’t reply because, really, what can you say after that kind of a comment? Should I agree, ‘Yes, it sure does suck to be them!’ or should I express shock over his blatant lack of compassion while pointing out the necessity for the milk of human kindness? I’m afraid I took the chicken’s way out: I changed the channel.
I work with teenagers so I’m used to the sucks-to-be-them attitude and I’m aware that it covers up a lot of other emotions that they don’t feel like sharing at the risk of being accused of being “uncool.” But even though I know that the majority of adolescents simply prefer to talk a lot tougher than they really are, I can’t help cringing whenever I hear the all too oft said sucks-to-be-them.
Of all the expressions I’ve heard over the course of my lifetime, and at my age I’ve heard some real doozies, I have to say “sucks to be them” is my ultra-least-favorite-EVER so, naturally, it’s one I hear at least once a day. Didn’t get the scholarship you hoped for? Sucks to be you. Your neighbor’s garage burnt down with their brand new car inside? Sucks to be them. You just found out that you have a terminal illness? It REALLY sucks to be you!
I agree that there are a lot of problems in the world such as people losing their houses because they can’t pay their mortgages, workers losing their jobs to lower paid workers in other countries and patients losing their battles with illnesses to a convoluted health care system that seems to benefit fewer and fewer actual human beings with each passing day. There’s no denying that it does suck to be an out of luck homeowner or a displaced factory worker or a dying leukemia patient. But must we dismiss everyone with any kind of problem so completely?
I think the reason I hate that expression, beyond the obvious, is that the moment it is uttered, empathy evaporates and a sort of self-satisfied complacency takes its place. It’s as if by acknowledging what a lousy situation someone else is in, you’re both absolving yourself from any kind of moral obligation to do something that might help them out and also obliquely saying Thank God it happened to them and not me. I can’t help but feel that when empathy is gone, there isn’t all that much left to us as human beings.
Of course, I’ve never said any of this to my young male relative. As irritated as I am whenever he says it sucks to be someone else, I’m old enough to have learned to tread lightly when dealing with teenagers.
But I suspect I’ve been treading far too lightly for far too long. So the next time that certain person says it sucks to be anyone again, I’m going to speak up. I’m going to ask that he say instead something along the lines of I’m sorry to hear that or I hope everything works out okay or I wonder how I could help. Because frankly, if his generation continues to believe how it sucks to be everyone else in the world, if they keep on whittling away at their ability to have some kind of sensation of what other people are going through, one day it’s going to stop being something they say because everybody else says it and become something they believe.
And that will really suck for all of us.