It’s my very good fortune to know lots and lots of remarkably diverse, interesting, erudite, opinionated, amusing people. My very good fortune, indeed. So, why not share the wealth? I sent out a request and many responded in kind (and if I haven’t hit you up for the favor yet, it doesn’t mean I won’t). Writing isn’t for everyone. Putting thoughts down on paper isn’t for everyone. But for some people, it is and we’re all the better for it. Each month, a new voice will be heard from. Welcome to The Guest Blog.
| May 3, 2016
My name is Brett. And for the first time in my life, I live with a girlfriend, a lovely experience that has many benefits.
But the truth is, early in our relationship, I often noticed a certain amount of … this … this … thing. Complaining.
Sometimes it was about people walking too slow (a right-of-passage complaint for NYC residents). Sometimes it was a friend who had changed plans, a clueless co-worker, or some other innocuous non-event. And, maybe, in her mind these conversations were just a form of sharing. But I was hearing complaining. And it affected me. It’s a glass half-empty approach, and since I only have one life to live, I generally don’t believe complaining is worth my time.
Well, those complaints were over 2 years ago. I’m happy to report that we have since grown and evolved, and have recently moved to Boulder, CO, the “Are they really nice, really high, or both?” capital of the U.S. (sorry, Burlington).
Yes, this woman selflessly quit her job to live with me in the middle of the country. And that has been a hard transition. She has been job searching for almost 4 months now. She is spending her life’s savings trying to stay afloat. She is scouring job sites. She is, at times, very sad about the fact that she has yet to land a job. We’re talking about a qualified, organized, type-A, go getter. Not the type who yearns to sit at home and do nothing (That would be me. I’m the one who regularly brings up new calendar systems for the whole planet based on ways that I can catch up on my TV viewing. “There should be 8 days a week, and 1 of them should be strictly for TV watching! Or maybe we should all get January off, and all re-watch The Wire, like a global book club for TV!”).
My point is, not having a job is a real issue. It’s hard on your psyche, it’s hard on your wallet, and it’s hard on your lifestyle. As Kanye once said, “If havin’ money’s not everything, not havin’ it is.”
So while we were sitting in the hot tub on a recent Sunday, she mentions wanting to use the car on Monday. “Where are you going?”, I ask.
“I have an interview tomorrow,” she answers.
“What?! That’s great! Why haven’t you told me about this?!”
She hid this from me, partially because she’s afraid of jinxing herself. I get that. She’s gone on a lot of interviews and has been disappointed before.
“But,” she mentions, “I also just don’t want to be complaining to you all the time about not having a job.”
I’ve had many thoughts around this poisonous C-word, but this usage really got to the core of the issue, which is the difference between a Complaint and a Concern.
COMPLAINING (as defined by me): Wasting negative energy on life’s trivial non-events.
CONCERNING (as defined by me): Spending emotional energy on the things in life that really matter.
I want to hear about her real problems. Maybe I can help. Heck, maybe listening is help enough. That is what we’re all here for, folks; to help each other through hard times.
But my girlfriend and I are lucky in the “hard times” department. We’re healthy, middle-class mother fuckers with hot tub access. Our complaints (yes, me too) are the direct result of being far too comfortable. We literally don’t have anything worth complaining about, so we make shit up.
“My company-paid iPhone 6 is white, and I wanted a black one!”
That’s a real complaint that I myself recently made to her. Who the fuck cares?! It shouldn’t affect me. It’s not a real problem. The free porn still streams in glistening HD. I need to re-evaluate my priorities.
But enough about us. We’ve realized that we have things to work on in this department. So. What about YOU? Do you think, just maybe, you could use a little help on this one?
“But if I can’t complain, I’ll die because it’s my favorite thing to dooooo!”
Shut up. You’re complaining about complaining.
“Damn. You’re right. How can I tell if I’m complaining or not?”
If you have to ask that, you are a level-5 Complainer. And that is a real problem. Which is great, because, as I said before, I’m here to help you solve your real problems. So here are some tips to help you rid yourself of this lowly disease once and for all.
“But I hate readiiiiing!”
Ugh. You’re the worst. Just read this:
1. WATCH YOUR TONE, YOUNG MAN
Yes, how you say something is as important as what you say. For instance, imagine taking a walk in sunny Central Park at 2PM in mid July. You turn to your friend and say, with a neutral or informative voice, “It’s very hot out.” So true. Right you are, chap! Let us discuss this weather or move onto something even more scintillating, if we dare! In fact, let us take this conversation to a bar and see where 8 drinks take us! This day has only just begun!
Now imagine that same walk, except you turn to your friend with dramatic exasperation and groan, “Ugh! It’s gross out!” Well, that’s one way to look at it. But you just complained. You just sprinkled both of our days with negativity. You just failed to realize you’re in Central Park. You’re not stuck at the office. You’re enjoying a beautiful day. Or, at least, you should be.
1A. TURN YOUR COMPLAINT INTO A CONVERSATION
Let’s take tone a step further. As you know by now, I have zero interest in listening to you complain about things that don’t matter. But guess what? I have an unhealthy appreciation for ridiculous conversations and even-keeled debates around things that don’t matter. I want to hear your point of view in a non-complaint format. And you can turn almost any complaint into a pleasant conversation if you just serve it up the right way.
“That flight was the worst because that baby wouldn’t shut up and now my day is ruined!”
COMPLAINT TURNED INTO QUESTION:
“Wow, that baby’s got healthy lungs. What do you think is the best way to keep a baby from crying on an airplane?”
Well, I have no clue. I don’t even have a baby. But I like the question. “Feed it whiskey. Inject it with heroin. Leave it in the overhead compartment! Thank you for asking! Please, tell me your thoughts on this very issue! Where do we have common ground? What can I learn from you? Do you think I’d be a good parent?”
Instead of the ol’ huff-and-puff, you just turned a potential complaint into a fun little chat for both of us. It wasn’t magic. Turning your dumb, awful complaint into a dumb, entertaining debate is possible EVERY TIME.
Let’s try it again.
“Donald Trump is an idiot! I hate him and if he wins the election I’m moving to Canada! I’ll do it, I swear!”
COMPLAINT TURNED INTO QUESTION:
“What do you think of Donald Trump? If you could replace his current hair with one animal, what would it be?”
Now we’re cookin’ with fire! Got it? Great. Moving on.
2. WWMD (what would Madonna do)? ‘LIKE A PRAYER’
If you find yourself scratching at the ceiling with the need to complain about something, ask yourself, “Is this enhancing the conversation?” If it has to do with food garnish, a random waitress, or anything concerning air travel, save the rest of us from your diatribe and treat it like a prayer: say it in your own head instead of out loud. Then tell grandpa you miss him, and come back to us when you’re ready.
3. REMEMBER THAT YOU HAVE ALL OR MOST OF YOUR LIMBS
Oh, you’re hungry and the restaurant got your food wrong? The waiter at this beautiful restaurant, where you are surrounded by good friends and loved ones? In a beautiful city that you love? A few miles from your office where you get paid to think about things that really aren’t important? If all of those positive things have escaped you, look at your limbs. Remember your health. You could use those limbs to stand up and angrily walk out of the restaurant, but that would be a form of complaining. Instead, let those limbs rest and be extremely grateful for your health. Some people have gone to war. Others have come down with disease. And someday, we will all be older and it will be harder to get to a restaurant. Your meal will be ready in 10 minutes. Until then, you can have some of my fries.
4. RE-ALIGN YOUR WHINE
There are real issues all around us. But complaining is the opposite of solving. It lets the problem win, because it feeds the problem with negative energy. And all of that energy could probably do a hell of a lot of good if you’d just re-align it toward problem-solving. Instead of complaining about the management structure at your office, start an open dialogue. Instead of bleakly looking at the issue of guns or mental health (talking to you, Americans), do some research. Sign a petition. Offer to volunteer somewhere. Or else, realize that it’s not worth your time and let it go. If you’re only willing to care enough about something to complain about it, then you don’t really care. And that’s O.K.
Listen, no one is perfect. And we are all hypocrites. Do I ever complain? Of course. It’s part of human nature to feel discontent (which is different than incontinence … which you’ll also feel someday). Everyone deserves a pass from time to time. But don’t let yourself be a Complainer. You’re doing a disservice to all of the incredible things that surround you, and the comparably fantastic lot you’ve been granted in this life.
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