Saturday, July 12, 2014

Don't Complain

Everyone knows that complaining is bad. It is bad for your relationships, bad for your career and probably even bad for your health.

But, why do people do it? Why do they indulge something that they know is bad?

I suspect that complaining is a habit, a habit of thought that is inculcated through the school system and the media.

Once it becomes a habit it feels normal. It feels right. It even feels good.

Complaining is about finding fault. It is about obsessively talking about what is wrong.

How do people acquire this habit?

Take an example. How many schoolchildren learn to find fault with America? How many teachers believe that if they are not tearing down the country they are not teaching history correctly?

When you see American history in terms of a battle between oppressors and the oppressed, when you see American success as exploitation of the poor and disadvantaged, when you find nothing that deserves unalloyed praise… you are teaching children to think critically and to think negatively.

In more pedestrian terms, you are teaching them to find fault, to reject any positive interpretation… and to end up chronically complaining about America.

When these students go to college they learn that it’s not just America. Western civilization is an organized criminal conspiracy, one that must be deconstructed. They learn that it’s all about racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, transphobia… ad nauseam. They learn to pick through texts in order to find evidence of these deadly sins.

Right or wrong, they have been habituated to confuse thinking with complaining. In fact, they have been taught that complaining is good, that finding fault is a proper activity. After all, how can you correct errors if you do not see them?

But, if you spend all of your time looking for faults, you will have no time left to correct any of them.

Children learn this at school. Once it becomes habitual, children will apply it outside of the classroom.

They have learned to criticize; they have learned to find fault; in many cases that’s all they know how to do. They will complain about their friends; they will complain about their relationships; they will complain about their favorite football team; they will complain about their jobs.

Once you develop a habit, even a habit of thought, it will have what feels like a life of its own. You do not get to turn it on and off. It is on automatic pilot.

People who suffer from this habit feel comfortable tearing everything apart. It’s familiar. They have mastered the skill. It feels like the normal thing to do.

If you suffer from this habit, you would do well to examine Selena Rezvani’s article in Forbes. Rezvani limits herself to the negative fallout from complaining.

Obviously, it is useful to be able to identify what is going wrong when something is going wrong. Yet, chronic complainers are always finding things that are going wrong. They never see things going right.

They tell themselves that they are helping people to improve. And yet, their chronic complaining makes it impossible, after a time, to take any of their criticisms seriously.

The more you complain the more people will tune you out.

Besides, if you tell someone that he is always getting things wrong, you will demoralize him. At that point, good luck trying to motivate him to do a better job.

Rezvani approaches the problem from the correct angle. While you are feeling righteous and virtuous for pointing out everything that is wrong with your company, your colleagues will be seeing something else.

First, they believe that you are unproductive, to say nothing of disloyal. How can you be contributing to the good of the company when you are tearing it down all the time?

The energy you spend finding problems cannot at the same time be spent solving problems.

Second, everyone will assume that you are complaining about them… behind their backs. And they will probably be right.

Third, they will not trust you and will not want to confide in you. Rezvani expresses it well:

If you’re seen as a complainer, people will not respect your view in a meeting the same way they would someone who evenhandedly considers all angles. By complaining too much, you’re etching away at your credibility and essentially declaring to the world, “Don’t take my ideas very seriously, they’re probably negative, partial or one sided.”

Fourth, you will appear to be rigid and negative, thus, incapable of adapting to change.

Fifth, everyone will assume that you cannot take responsibility. People who complain about others all the time are shifting the blame. Does that sound familiar?

Rezvani explains:

One of the key reasons we complain is that when we pin the fault on someone else, we don’t have to look at our own behavior. And yet, in my interviews with top senior leaders, the higher an executive moves up, the more personal responsibility they need to take for their actions and results. A seasoned complainer rarely takes personal ownership – which only underscores the sense of powerless that got them complaining in the first place.

Finally, no one wants to be associated with a complainer. Everyone knows that complainers are not team players. They do not know how to cooperate with others.

If you associate with them they will bring you down. Moreover, if you associate too closely with them their bad reputation will rub off on you.


Anonymous said...

Fully agree. Whiners are boring and deleterious.

One big exception. The enlisted military. Napoleon called his troops grounglers (sp!) - grumblers.

In the 60s US Army, esp in VN, I was astonished by how much my fellow soldiers bitched and moaned. I thought, "What did you expect? Fun?"

(The other surprise was how much they used "fuck" or its variants in practically every sentence. A guy noticed I didn't, and asked what's wrong w/me.)

I later read it's a military maxim. Officers EXPECT soldiers to complain. It's letting off steam, a bonding ritual, a harmless cathartic (E.g., the LT in "Saving Private Ryan")

It's when soldiers DON'T grumble officers worry. Quiet soldiers betoken loss of morale. In the worst case, Mutiny.

Odd, but true. -- Rich Lara

Larry Sheldon said...

There is an obverse to this--one that is at least as destructive, if not more so.

Although I am a perennial victim of it, I have no idea what to call it.

There are people who INTERPRET and react to every single thing said or written to them or about them AS IF it was a complaint (or worse).

Nothing is safe.

Anonymous said...

I am offended, Larry Sheldon. Stop your veiled attacks on me, you vicious bully!


Larry Sheldon said...


Dennis said...

As a Senior NCO, a long time ago, I would agree with Rich Lara. If the troops aren't complaining you know something is wrong. In most cases it is a matter of caring about what happens. Though I have to admit that I put a couple of the biggest whiners in charge of details mainly to give them a chance to learn to lead and also because they now became the person being complained about and to. Surprisingly, in every case where I did that I got a real hard worker who began to understand what it requires to be responsible.
Sadly, we seem to have created a society that looks, no needs, to take umbrage at anything said to them. The need to be a victim denote one of the biggest forms of insecurity along with the desire to attack others as in bulling.

Anonymous said...

Being a victim confers unearned rights, status and privileges that are of tremendous value. Nothing stops traffic like "I'm offended." It's a source of great power, and requires no special training. Everyone's got a story.

People generations removed from institutionalized discrimination go to Ivy League colleges and become agitators for social justice reforms. Ostensibly, this is to remedy injustice. Yet we all know it's never going to be enough -- the rage is directed to whoever or whatever the next cause or issue is.

It's an industry. There's product development, manufacture, distribution, marketing and retailing. There's nothing unique about it whatsoever. Rage is a product, and lots of people are buying and selling. In fact, it's probably the most widely marketed product and service in America today. And the barriers to entry are surprisingly low. The only thing you need to sacrifice is your sense of responsibility, honesty and individual dignity, but those are outmoded things anyway. And you must promise you'll never look in the mirror again.

We have product development and market research centers... they're called universities. Manufacturing is conducted by intellectuals, and dubious claims make the best product because no one checks the veracity of victimhood claims, anyway. Distribution is handled by activists and unions. Retailing is done by politicians, college students and non-working people (minimum wage laws don't apply). Consumers come in all shapes, sizes, colors and stripes; and there's always a next generation of consumers. The product is a simple, tidy and compelling: it's an excuse, a reason, a rationalization, an explanation for why bad things happen to you. The problem is other people. The solution is your rage. It's highly addictive. The marketing slogan is always the same: there are wealthy, shadowy elites out there who have rigged the game of life. They hate you, they hate your mom, they hate apple pie, they hate America.

Being a victim commands enormous attention, absolves the person from any responsibility, justifies phony rage, makes the malcontent into a momentary celebrity, and allows the truly committed victim to a lifetime of paid advocacy on behalf of their aggrieved class... in perpetuity.

People aren't dumb. They go where the privilege, money and status is for the least amount of work required. Being a victim fits the bill, and being a professional victim is a pretty good gig for an enterprising enabler.

Follow the money.

The only way out of this cultural insanity is to refuse to play the game. It's always astounding what happens to the bold, courageous, raging victim when he is challenged -- his position falls like a house of cards. Behind the eloquence, intelligence and posturing is someone very small. Talk back.


Dennis said...


This perfectly makes your points:

If one cannot blame their failures on someone or something then one may be forced to accept responsibility for their lack. To understand that almost everything that happens, both positive and negative is an opportunity to learn and improve oneself. Trying to avoid responsibility for one's life and the things that occur around them only means that they will keep facing that avoidance multiple times until it is actually addressed.
One can run away to the mountain, but that which one ran away will eventually find one's mountain with far more consequences. Nothing we face is passed our ability to heal with.

Sam L. said...

Rich, when I was in, we said, "you can't be really happy without something to gripe about".

Still, constant griping and whining is something most of us do not want to be near.