One of the lessons I’ve learned while working for Hell Inc. is that problems, like many things in the world, are fractal. Small ones can look very similar to big ones when viewed close up.
Think about a bad thing that happened to you today: maybe you couldn’t find a clean bra; maybe you stepped in something nasty on the sidewalk; or maybe you misplaced the keys to the fur-lined handcuffs. Was it the worst thing to occur this week? This year? Was it worse than poor Jim in Accounting who lost his testicles in the infamous “paper jam incident”? The weird part is that no matter how bad (or good) the situation is, we somehow adjust our viewpoint to suit the circumstances. We are relentlessly relativist about life.
This is why we can say, “Oh, there’s nothing worse than a papercut” with a straight face and no sense of irony whatsoever. There are plenty of things worse than a papercut: taxes; infamous paper jam incidents; and ex-spouses coming to visit (in order of increasing horribleness) immediately spring to mind. Of course, there are plenty more things worse than those and other things that are worse than the worse things and so on ad fundum.
It raises an interesting question, though: do you ever reach the bottom? What is the worst thing ever? I can accept the concept of such a thing as a sort of Platonic Ideal, but I suspect that it would be difficult to achieve any kind of consensus on an actual, real, hold-in-your-hand thing.
Besides, things could always get worse, couldn’t they?