Humans are literally born complaining. The very first thing we do upon being dragged unceremoniously out of a nice, warm, dark, cozy place into the loud, bright, cold, and uncertain world is to register a noisy complaint. It makes perfect sense; the newborn has no other way to change the state of its life. We communicate our fear, hunger, pain, or discomfort with the hope that someone can and will do something about it, and we have narcissism to blame.
Social media has in some ways accelerated our human instinct to complain. Remember “he who can rain on a parade in the desert?” He was the guy at the club complaining because all the strippers have implants. And he has a twitter account now.
Twitter is a veritable hotbed of bitching, from the classic #humblebrag,“I hate that I can’t walk into a bar and just have a quiet drink with friends because there is always some guy hitting on me.” To the nigglingly Seinfeld-esque, “How can you date someone who names their dog Newt?
At times, we all register a noisy complaint hoping that someone somewhere will fix “it.” If your complaint is bigger than you, a fundamental wrong in the world, then complaints carry evolution and can actually be productive. If you organize your complaint into a protest, then putting your complaint out in the world can be net positive; it is a form of alchemy in which you turn your impotent words into a formidable action. But this example is the exception not the rule; most of our complaints are more akin to the narcissistic cries of the infant than the exhortations of Gandhi.
Everyone has that friend – Facebook or otherwise – who just can’t seem to turn it off. Among them are the “So do something about it, girl/dude,” – the ones with the same complaint, day after day, year after year about something eminently solvable. Stop going to the restaurant where you hate the fact that the waitress introduces herself to you every time. It’s annoying, yes, but after a while, so are you.
Then there are the “I’m so clever,” complainers, your standard eye-rollers who complain to impress, because really, who ever sounded funny, ironic, wry, and sexily jaded saying something nice? So let’s clarify here: All the various reality shows you said heralded the coming of the apocalypse did, and it’s not funny anymore. Watch or don’t watch but let the rest of us enjoy our Teen Moms and Honey Boo Boos in peace.
And of course there is the “first world” perspective. Yes, it would be nice if the barista didn’t screw up your order and give you a latte when you clearly asked for a cappuccino, or perhaps you can’t believe the sommelier doesn’t know the difference between a 1969 and a 1972 Pinot. Oh go take a bath in it.
It’s clear that far more often than not, we are complaining not out of oppression but out of entitlement. Rarely, if ever, do we stop to consider whether it is productive to voice our complaint much less ask if it is reasonable to want what we wanted.
When complaining becomes wholly destructive is when you can’t or won’t take action but refuse to accept powerlessness. Every small disappointment, every expectation unmet, attaches itself to the last as the snowball rolls down hill and your positive energy leaks out into the ether and is lost. The irony is that in accepting that you are powerless you can actually restore your sense of control and move on in a healthy way. After all, that acceptance is a conscious act, a decision you are making to clear that clogged and bitter real estate in your mind and rebuild there with something better.
Seriously, because after a while, if you don’t come up with a way to make peace with the gnats and nits of the world, you are really going to have something to complain about: loneliness. Think about it. You used to have that friend, that non-stop complainer. It’s a type.
To determine the difference between healthy expression and leaking negativity when you open your mouth, consider your motivation. Most complaining is essentially a byproduct of lack of control. Something goes wrong and we can’t immediately fix it, or change it, so we do the one thing we can do: We talk about it. In doing so we are able to experience, for a moment at least, the illusion of action and of being back in control. In some subconscious way we believe that by complaining we are actually doing something – that we can set the mechanics of karma in motion and make it right.
But of course, karma doesn’t work that way. Karmically, when you complain in most cases you are merely throwing an ultimately porous and futile roadblock in front of what is, rather than letting it flow around you and accepting its place in your path.
The point is, you may well slowly be becoming one of these types and forgetting that each and every one of them are someone you no longer spend time with because frankly, who has the time to listen to all that complaining?
From our earliest moments, we know that this is a cold and scary world in which we are all too often anxious and tired…but you were born, and here you are. For goodness sake, suffer the minor annoyances in silence and enjoy the rest of life while you can.
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Pamela Johnston is an image and reputation expert, media expert, entrepreneur, and author who routinely takes on and triumphs over herculean challenges. Her landmark work in image management and market strategy spans numerous sectors where she has been ‘of record’ for governments, blue chip companies, consulting firms, technology entrants and incumbents, personal branding and image agencies, dating services and astrologers. She has precipitated great moments of business innovation and is a sought after speaker on innovation, authenticity and problem solving. It is her lifetime quest to help people and organizations realize their potential and navigate change.