January 16, 2016 — I’m a world-class complainer, one who has hoisted a trophy for kvetching and donned the medal around my neck for my lamentations. I’m a champion griper.
Complaining is the absolute opposite of gratitude, and gratitude is something I want in my life every day. So, when a high school acquaintance posted the following on Facebook, I was intrigued. Here’s what Kelly wrote:
I’m reading the book Secrets of the Millionaire Mind by T. Harv Eker. I LOVE this book! His concepts can be applied to so many aspects of our lives. His challenge to readers, which I pass on to you, and hopefully you’ll pass on to others, is this: “Here’s some homework that I promise will change your life. For the next seven days, I challenge you to not complain at all. Not just out loud, but in your head as well. But you have to do it for the full seven days. Why? Because for the first few days, you may still have some “residual crap” coming to you from before. Unfortunately, crap doesn’t travel at the speed of light, you know, it travels at the speed of crap, so it might take a while to clear out.” Let the challenge begin! Thanks Harv!
I saw this challenge on Facebook on January 8. Today is January 15, the seventh day. What I have to report is that I was an utter failure, but I learned much about myself and others. I will use this knowledge to move forward, and honestly, I’m much more aware now of how my thoughts affect my mood, and possibly, actions. Have I stopped complaining? No, not completely.
(A caveat, however, sometimes complaining is good, and sometimes it is justified. Bad things happen. Repairing the damage involves productive complaining when something is repairable. So, let’s focus on the unproductive, no-good-nik complaint, the one that nobody can fix, particularly the person you are laying it on.)
The first morning of the challenge I was in the drive-up line at Starbucks, early. If I’m in the line, of course, I’ve not had my coffee yet. Bad situation for all concerned. I am not nice. I am not a morning person, and it sets me off if you are.
The car in front of me had the trunk and rear doors closed with a large piece of duct tape. The sedan was about thirty years old and spewed something smelly and seemingly toxic. Naturally, I’m car #6, and it is car #5. (I know: first world problem, right?) After inhaling this distillation for five minutes, I finally got to the window where the smiling man with the long ponytail greeted me warmly.
What do I say to this young man?
I complain about the car ahead of me. Woe is me! The car smells bad! My car now smells bad! Nevermind that this person has to open the drive-up window to every fragrant car in the drive-up.
Bingo! I lose and not an hour into the first day of the challenge. Seriously, what can this Starbucks employee do about a car with a bad muffler? I’m spewing forth toxic words to him just as the car was spewing toxic air at me.
That initial incident made me think. Several adverse events happened in my work life this week that were completely out of my control. I handled them better when I didn’t complain about those things out of my control. I call this PERSPECTIVE. Good word perspective. Not complaining because there’s not a darn thing that complaining will accomplish is a good thing. And it is not only the complaining to others, it is the complaining to self. The spinning in my head that I allow to continue has to stop, the harmful ruminating over things I cannot change. Channels the AA motto, “Grant me the wisdom to change the things I cannot accept, accept the things I cannot change, and the wisdom to know the difference.” (paraphrased.)
This self-awareness (which is a word in progress, believe me, I’m still trying to outfox the negativity) may lead to better understanding of those around us. We listen to our friends because we care for them. Is the listening productive? Are you doing them any favors by listening to a rerun of last week’s complaint, if they have changed nothing that could be changed? No, it is not our role to judge. However, it is not healthy for you or your friend to complain endlessly over things that cannot be changed.
Wendell Berry, “The Peace of Wild Things” from The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry. Copyright © 1998. Published and reprinted by arrangement with Counterpoint Press.
Source: Collected Poems 1957-1982 (Counterpoint Press, 1985)