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It Could Have Been Worse

Trey Reely | February 2019

    Two commonly used phrases of dubious comfort I have heard over the years are “It could have been worse” and “There’s always somebody worse off than you.” I say dubious because many people do not find these words supportive at all; they even seem trivialize what one is going through.  However, I find that the phrases are not without some merit, but it is best for individuals to say the words to themselves rather than spouting them to someone else. It is with this in mind that I gently suggest you use the phrases yourself when you find it helpful in gaining a different perspective.
    For example, last marching season I had a third clarinet player whose father came into the band room twenty minutes before our Region Marching Assessment and said his son could not march because it had been rainy and cold all day. As is typical in such instances, I went through an accelerated five stages of grief:

    Denial: Thinking to myself that this cannot actually be happening.
    Anger: “The rain has stopped, and the sky is clear,” I say angrily to the father, who is clad in shorts and a tank top.
    Bargaining: To the father: “If it is raining when we arrive at the contest site, I will make him stay on the bus.”
    Depression: After the father ignores my pleas and marches down the hall, his flip-flops flapping, son in tow.

    It is at this point that I move toward the fifth stage, acceptance, by thinking “it could have been worse” in increasing levels of severity:

    It could have been someone who marches in step.
    It could have been the first-chair clarinet player.
    It could have been one of my bass drummers.
    The earth could have opened up and swallowed the entire flute section.
    It could have been my first-chair trumpet soloist. 

    It is at this point that I feel better and am ready to move on with the job at hand.
    Then there’s the closely related saying “There’s always somebody worse off than you.” This phrase might not work for you at all. If you are particularly sensitive, the phrase might even make you feel worse, because you now have someone else to worry about. Furthermore, taken to its logical conclusion, it means there is someone somewhere on this planet who actually has it worse than everyone else. Nevertheless, used in moderation, it can also be helpful in righting the mental ship.
    Here is an example: My superintendent tells me that the school district is taking the football concessions away from the band. After going through the first four stages of grief, I move towards acceptance by thinking of those worse off than me, including a band director with no budget at all, a concert band with 13 alto sax players, someone struck by lightning, or an NFL kicker who misses a game-winning field goal in the playoffs.
    If you are ever in a situation that is absolutely as bad as it can get, you might be able to take some comfort in another phrase, “There is nowhere to go but up.” You may even find some solace knowing you have comforted others when they discover their situation is not as bad as yours.
    I hope you have found this article helpful, but if you didn’t, just remember, it could have been worse.