Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Overcoming a Culture of Complaint

Given that it's one of my favorite topics, I could not resist the challenge that Jessica Grose and Hanna Rosin set themselves. The two DoubleX editors decided to try to overcome the habit of complaining all the time. For their article, link here. For my earlier takes, see here and here.

To me it is clear that if you follow the therapy culture's precepts religiously, you are going to end up as a chronic whiner. You may not have spent any time in therapy, but you live in a culture where complaining is the "lingua franca."

As Grose and Rosin both point out, they are so thoroughly habituated to complaining, to having a negative, sardonic attitude toward life, that they do not even notice when they do it. Moreover, once they step back to look at how much they complain, they discover that most of the most compelling conversations they have with their friends involve complaining.

Better than that, they both define with extraordinary clarity the difference between therapy and coaching. As Grose writes about a conversation with her fiance: "Why couldn't he just listen to me whine rather than offer suggestions about how to proactively improve my mental status?"

A therapist will listen to you pour out your heart, express your deepest feelings, and will find them all to be useful and valid.

A coach will offer suggestions for improving the issues you are complaining about.

Or, look at Rosin's epiphany. She was complaining one day about how difficult it was organizing her children's schedules. Surely, she is not alone. Hearing her complaint, her husband "helpfully" drew up a weekly schedule and posted it on the fridge. You would have thought that this organizational aid would have been greeted with some level of gratitude.

You would have been wrong. To her shock and dismay, Rosin saw the schedule and flew into a rage. Why was she so angry? She explains: "By helping me solve my problem he had robbed me of my God-given right to complain."

Both of these experiences allow us to ask: What has therapy wrought?What happens to people and their relationships when they are induced by therapy and its culture to complain and whine all the time, to seek out things that are wrong and to expound on them at length?

Grose and Rosin will chronicle their experience of not complaining in forthcoming posts. I for one look forward to reading them.

For now I want to address one, somewhat obvious point. Are we dealing with a gender divide here? Are men hard-wired to solve problems while women are hard-wired to express feeling?

Or has the therapy culture taken natural tendencies and produced caricatured male and female gender roles? Has this culture induced women to believe that they can only assert their femininity by complaining, and that anyone who does not nod appreciatively upon receiving these communications is denying their identity?

I for one find this more than passing strange. We as a culture have spent decades trying to break down the difference between stereotypical masculine and feminine roles.

To me this was not a great use of our mental energy, but leave that to the side for the moment.

We have tried to break down the masculine/feminine divide by allowing women to get in touch with their masculine side, to become more active members of the workforce, to overcome the strictures of traditional feminine roles, and to have lives that are every bit as full as those of men.

Is it not strange that in place of traditional feminine roles we have created a caricatured feminine identity that can only assert itself by whining and complaining?

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