Handling Complaints


It rains so the dead have something to complain about

"How are things going?" I ask.

"Oh, I can’t complain." they reply.

Yet, after telling me they "can’t complain," they immediately start doing so. On and on with whining, grumbling, griping, and bellyaching. Some people complain so much that I’m sure they continue doing so after they die. That must be why God created rain, so the dead would have something to complain about. Why do people complain so much? It’s not because of the enormity of their problems, but the smallness of their spirit.

True, we cannot make progress unless we are dissatisfied. Unless we complain. Whenever we use our complaints to seek solutions and bring about positive change, we’re making the world a better place. But unless our complaints are constructive, they are destructive. In this article, I’m focusing on destructive complaints because most of ours are.

We have seen, and still feel, the awful destruction caused by the terrorist attacks in the U.S. In addition to the huge death toll, there are the costs of rebuilding New York City and the Pentagon, bailing out the airline industry, coping with massive layoffs, paying for a war to fight terrorism, and struggling to steady a sagging economy. A few simple acts of terrorism have caused a wake of devastation that has great impact on the world.

So it is with our constant complaining. It starts out with a few complaints here and there and gradually builds up to a tidal wave of destruction that wrecks our lives and all those around us. Do I seem to be blowing things out of proportion? Am I exaggerating? I don’t think so. Why is it that Afghani children play in the streets as bombs and missiles burst not far from them? Because they were raised in a country at war, they think such disasters are normal. They don’t know any better. They’ve learned to accept it.

And how do those raised in a world of endless complaining react? Don’t they accept it as normal? Don’t they grow blind to the destruction in their midst? It’s time to stop the madness. Time to reevaluate our actions. Time to consider the harm we do to ourselves and others.

What do we value more than anything? Happiness! If that is so, why are we so intent on destroying it? It is impossible to be happy and complain at the same time. So, what is it that I wish to be? Happy or a complainer? Isn’t it a simple choice? Another question, what is the difference between those who complain about their problems and those who give thanks for the problems they don’t have? Isn’t it the difference between being happy and being miserable? Our happiness, or lack of it, is important because it is like a virus. That is, we infect everyone we meet. We will either spread happiness or misery. So, don’t pollute the air with your complaints. You can't stop the rain by complaining, but you can keep dry by wearing a raincoat. Therefore, if it’s raining, change your apparel, change your attitude, and change the world!

Don’t be ungrateful. Don’t push gratitude and appreciation out of your life with constant complaining. Instead of complaining about your job, be grateful you have one. Reflect on the thoughts of Earl Musselman, "The sun was shining in my eyes, and I could barely see to do the necessary task that was allotted me. Resentment of the vivid glow I started to complain. When all at once upon the air I heard the blind man's cane." We teach our children to say, "Thank you," don’t we? So why don’t we do the same more often?

Don’t waste your time with complaints that serve no purpose. As Sir William Temple wrote about 350 years ago, "Our present time is indeed a criticizing and critical time, hovering between the wish, and the inability to believe. Our complaints are like arrows shot up into the air at no target: and with no purpose they only fall back upon our own heads and destroy ourselves."

Do you know someone at work who parties all-night and complains the next day about having a headache or hangover? Half of our complaints would disappear if we led more responsible lives. I complain about having a mountain of work to do. But is that because the boss gave me too much to do or because I’ve been goofing off? Why do we complain about not being treated as we deserve, when we should be happy that we’re not getting what we deserve? Whenever we find ourselves complaining about our job or relationships, it’s time to reflect on our own responsibility. Why not use our complaints as a wakeup call to improve our lives?

Our relationships have the potential to be a great source of happiness. Yet, we often sabotage our own welfare by destroying relationships. When we complain about other people, what do you imagine is the greatest harm? It is not the needless pain we cause them to experience, but the damage we do to ourselves. Here’s another question, why are there other people in the world? It’s so we can learn from them! But how can we learn from others if we are complaining? People who find faults seldom find anything else. When we complain about others, who are we disempowering? Isn’t it ourselves? My complaints blind me to the value of others, so I stop learning. Also, I drive my potential allies further away, reducing the size of my world and weakening it. Does that sound like a smart thing to do? The choice is ours. Why not choose to create an ever-widening world of harmonious relationships? If you are interested in physical and spiritual well-being, remember there are two things bad for the heart: running upstairs and running down people.

If you’re tired of acquaintances and friends complaining, here’s a trick you can use. Tell them about something wonderful that has recently happened. Perhaps a great restaurant you’ve discovered, book you’ve read, small town you’ve visited, or new car you’ve look at. After hearing your story, they won’t want to be left out of the conversation and will start scrambling for great stories to share with you. So, don’t get discouraged by their complaints, but redirect their focus to positive events.

Let’s be ever-mindful of our complaints. If they are legitimate, let’s look for solutions and then do what’s necessary to eliminate our problems. When it’s a problem we can’t change, let’s accept it and use it as a tool to grow stronger. If you find yourself spouting useless complaints, immediately stop and focus on the positive. If you find this too difficult to do, may I recommend you duct-tape your mouth shut? Either that or recite The Serenity Prayer:

Lord grant me the Serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
the Courage to change the things I can;
and the Wisdom to know the difference.

© Chuck Gallozzi
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