Monday, August 10, 2009

Complaining Does Not Help

You can complain about your problems or you can solve them, but you cannot do both at the same time.

As Alan Lurie wrote: "Someone who is actively working to bring about positive change through deliberate action is not a complainer, but is one who sees problems as calls to actions, and as possibilities for growth and transformation." Link here.

Lurie defines complaining as: "The disparaging observation about a person, event, or phenomenon, for which the complainer has no ability or intention to act in order to create positive change."

According to this definition, people complain about two kinds of problems. First, problems they have no capacity to change. Second, problems that they refuse to address through action.

We can complain about the weather or the behavior of other people, but there is nothing we can do about either of them.

If we choose to prepare for good or bad weather or learn to choose our friends better, then we are taking action, not complaining.

We can also complain about our past, about our parents, our childhood, or injustices visited on our ancestors... but again, complaining will not change what happened. It will make us feel that action is futile.

Why do people indulge the unfortunate, off-putting, and energy-draining habit of complaining? Lurie offers several cogent explanations.

First, people complain because they want to excuse themselves for not taking action. Then, complaining gives you a false sense that you are doing something.

Complaining produces drama; perhaps it is intended to produce drama. If the world is all drama, then attempts to engage consequential action are futile. When you are watching a movie or a play there is nothing you can do to change the outcome.

Second, people complain because it is better to blame others than to ask ourselves what we can do to change things.

Here, Lurie emphasizes correctly that complaining is a rationalization for inaction.

Third, people complain because it makes them feel morally superior to those who take action, get their hands dirty, and who might succeed or fail.

In complaining people who specialize in talking, feeling, and finding fault assert that they are superior to those who do the real work.

How can we all work to overcome our habit of complaining? Lurie offers some good suggestions.

The first is simple. When you are tempted to complain, ask yourself whether there is anything you can do that would change the situation.

Second, when you encounter realities that cannot be changed, then make it a habit to stop complaining about them.

Third, ask yourself whether complaining is improving your relationships and making you more effective. Does complaining make you a better person?

But how did we get to be a nation of complainers? How did it happen that a man could sit down next to Alan Lurie at a concert, and, with the slightest provocation, launch into a litany of complaints? Why would anyone consider this to be acceptable social behavior?

Readers of this blog probably know that I am going to say that our culture of complaint has been actively fostered by the therapy culture.

When you go to consult with a therapist, she will most likely not direct your attention to the positive actions you can take to change your life. More likely, she will invite you to vent and emote?

She might also encourage you to explore your past experiences, the ones you can do nothing about, the ones that damaged and harmed you. And if you become fully aware of all the bad things that have happened in days of yore, what can you do but complain about them.

What better way to get lost on the path to action.

If that is your therapist's approach-- and it corresponds reasonably well to Paul Weston's approach in the television program "In Treatment"-- then the only skill you are going to develop in treatment is the ability to complain, with force, and with gusto. When you complete therapy you will even feel good about yourself for doing it.

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