Can We Stop Complaining?
Toronto is nearing the end of its worst winter. It has never had as much snowfall (26 centimeters/10.6 inches fell in one day in December) or as much frigid weather (wind chill factors plummeted to lows of -27 Celsius/-17 Fahrenheit) as it has this winter. One of the ways that we have survived this assault has been by complaining about it. Our mutual enemies, ‘Snow’ and ‘Cold,’ have brought us closer together.
I moved into my new building 6 months ago, and I have met more of my neighbours in the past six months than I did in the entire 7 years that I worked at my last building. Why? Because our once-beautiful marble-lined lobby underwent a major renovation, transforming it into what could best be described as a 1960’s recreation room, veneer walls and all. And during the lengthy renovation, long-time residents drew me into their conversations, complaining about “the colossal waste of money and time” that was being spent on it.
I mention these two situations because I have been thinking a lot lately about the practice of complaining. You may have already heard about Will Bowen, the pastor from Christ Church Unity in Kansas City, Missouri, who has begun a campaign to create “a complaint-free world.” About a month ago, I saw an interview with him and ever since then, I have been trying to decide whether I agree with him or not.
For those of you who have not heard about his work, allow me to summarize. He began by asking his parishioners to stop complaining, criticizing and gossiping for a period of 21 consecutive days (the length of time it generally takes to form a new habit). He distributed purple wristbands and directed congregants to transfer the bands to their opposite wrists every time they found themselves falling into old habits. He promised them “happier relationships, better health and greater prosperity” if they lived a complaint-free life.
Well, the movement has caught on like wildfire. To date, he has sold almost 5,000,000 wristbands to more than 80 countries. It would appear that there are a lot of us that have tired of our own and other’s constant carping and are looking for ways to live more harmonious and optimistic lives. But I wondered at what cost? If we order a meal that proves unsatisfactory, should we eat it or complain? If we receive terrible customer service, should we keep our mouths shut or complain? If we find ourselves being taken advantage of by family, friends or coworkers, should we allow the exploitation to continue or complain?
As I thought about these instances, it became clearer that being assertive about poor service, meals and relationships is different from the complaining, whining, griping and grumbling that Pastor Bowen is referring to. In the former, we are actually doing something about our dissatisfaction. In the latter, we are kicking up a fuss or letting off steam. It also became clear that there are many complaints about which we have little control. For example, we can change our own behaviour, but complaining about that of our spouse, child or boss is more likely to result in frustration, anger or resentment, than in any real change.
There obviously is something appealing about complaining, criticizing, and gossiping. If not, our need for it would not be fed on a daily basis by a multi-billion dollar industry of celebrity magazines and entertainment shows. As the two situations mentioned earlier illustrated, it can establish an easy common bond amongst strangers. It can furnish us with plenty of conversation around the water cooler and dinner table. And it can keep us focused on other people’s lives and issues, rather than dealing with our own.
I have not as yet read his book, “A Complaint Free World: How to Stop Complaining and Start Enjoying the Life You Always Wanted.” And I am not sure how long I would survive living complaint-free. But I certainly am planning on conducting an experiment this month to reduce my complaints and to see the difference that it makes in my life. Anyone else up to the challenge?
Just to remind you. I am still taking names for the upcoming ‘Being There” assertiveness group starting this April. Please let me know if you are interested.
Barbara Fish, M.Ed.
Personal and Career Counsellor
“Helping Your Life Work”
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