Tuesday, February 24, 2009


I was lamenting the falling stock market the other day when my son pointed out that it could be worse...the Dow Jones could be at zero. Technically he's right but I found that to be cold comfort. There is a lot of this talk going on as we try to make the best of our unpleasant economic situation: could be worse I could be homeless, jobless, penniless. To be sure it can almost always be worse but does that mean we don't get to point out that things are pretty bad?

I'm sort of talking to myself here because I'm quite guilty of employing the "it could be worse" technique to deflect negativism. I do frequently with my Dutch friend Laurent. He is a bit of a pessimist. No, he’s more than a bit of a pessimist he’s a glass-half-empty-Eeyore who is given to sending me emails that say, “Today I calculated the odds that I could ever be happy and it appears they are extremely low." He cracks me up. Anyway, I often answer these emails with the classic, “It could be worse," and I point out that at least his life is better than some unfortunate person I've just heard about on NPR. To which he counters, “How on earth does knowing that a twelve-year-old boy in Africa was conscripted into a civil war make me feel better? Only a sick mind would feel better knowing that.”

Well, he does have a point. We can carry this “It could be worse” argument a bit too far. But I use it regularly as it is a Zimmerman-family defense mechanism. My father is the king of it. He likes to “put things in perspective.” When I spoke to him on 9/11 he said, “It could be worse. It could have been an hour later and the towers would have been full. And to put it in perspective, more people die in traffic accidents each year than died today.”

Yes, but. You know the saying, “If you can keep your head about you when all others are losing theirs, you may not be fully grasping the gravity of the situation.”

No, you should be able to say things are going badly for you without someone pointing out it could be worse. Of course it could be worse but if you carried this to the extreme, there would be only one person in the whole world at any given moment to whom you could NOT say "it could be worse" and really, I don't even want to think about the circumstances that person could be in.

So I’m going to try to stop saying, “It could be worse.” Go ahead, tell me your troubles in these times of trouble. I’m not going to tell you that at least it isn't like the depression when people had to eat dust or at least you aren't a child working in the African diamond mines because while that is true it is not very helpful. And if things are going really,really badly for you I will have you email Laurent. It might just cheer him up.

1 comment:

  1. Well, today I decided that alcohol is the solution. To a certain extent, that is (read it on my weblog, if you read Dutch. If not, learn it. It could be worse).
    No really, when I've had alcohol I don't even think 'it could be worse' anymore. I ony think about solutions, not about problems anymore. Solutions that have eluded me completely the next day, but hey, I was happy for two hours!