I’ve heard a lot of people use this phrase recently, and I find myself using it too. “The struggle is real.” And yeah, so maybe it is supposed to be a joke. Ironic. Sarcastic. Like “first world problems”, the phrase “the struggle is real” plays on the ironic notion that although you have problems, they are far easier to deal with than someone in a much less fortunate situation than you.
Thank god the first definition in Urban Dictionary takes note of the fact that this is intended to be ironic.
Especially after reading The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, I have become much more conscious of this phrase when I use it myself or hear others use it. And I feel guilty. In the book (which I highly recommend to anyone and everyone to read), Jeannette describes her upbringing with an alcoholic father and a depressed/bi-polar mother in a household where food is scarce and they live in poverty stricken conditions, many times without a roof over their heads, on the move, or in a disgusting rot of a house. The book reminded me that even in a privileged world, many people around you could be struggling with problems far worse than your own, without basic necessities. And that really, our struggles are not all that real.
A good friend once taught me the importance of considering your own problems in relation to others’. To paraphrase, “… I was crying over being kicked out of my house and was trying to figure out where to spend the night. My friend was crying over what shoes to choose for prom…”
Irony is a key ingredient to these phrases, and although irony is a literary device designed to make the reader stop and think (see examination of the use of irony here), I think that the humour in these phrases takes it to a whole new level of not OK. We may stop and think about the seriousness and meaning behind the phrase the first, second, and third times we use it. But as it becomes a part of our vocabulary, we may soon forget the real reason why we were using it in the first place. It becomes a funny one-liner to add to our painful morning run, our 10 mile hike, or our 7 a.m. alarm. This is where the humour plays in. Once you use the phrase enough and the real impact of the phrase wears off, it just becomes humorous. But the thing is, it’s really not funny.
For me, the guilt followed from this realization. As the phrase had become a part of my vocabulary, I found myself saying “the struggle is real” even when I was aware how much the irony had worn off, because it was a habit. Luckily my awareness of my use of the phrase has helped me to break the habit.
So please, consider how real your struggle is before using this phrase again. Much like “first world problems”, “the struggle is real” needs to be eliminated from our vocabulary altogether.