Derailing our culture of complaining

Kate Nelson

It’s a scenario that doesn’t require much imagination. Your relative/roommate/significant other walks into the room describing the seemingly unending neckache that’s been plaguing him or her. And rather than asking about the cause thereof or offering a remedy in the form of some Motrin or a massage, you start into a five-minute description of the aches and pains you experienced earlier that week.

After a joint acknowledgment that your bodies hurt/the workday is too long/life just isn’t fair, you retreat to your bedrooms to marinate in your respective pools of negativity.

It’s a no-win situation in which the individual who initiated the conversation has his or her feelings invalidated and the person who jumped on the pessimism bandwagon is reminded of her own tragic existence.

The motive? Perhaps an honest attempt at relating. Maybe an expression of a forgotten or suppressed emotion. Questionably, a simple need to spotlight-steal. Most likely, all of the above.

Whatever the reason, this common means of consolation is rarely actually comforting. In most cases, all parties involved, especially the individual who was seeking some support, walk away unfulfilled. Indeed, the dreaded “Everybody Hurts” solution, well, isn’t one. At least not one that’s useful.

Unfortunately, not only has it become the societal norm to try to one-up Debbie Downer, but complaining is the newest, coolest small talk. Forget what Wilder wrote in “Our Town,” if you want to get to know someone, you best get your juiciest gripes ready.

So if attempting to relate is how we normally go about communicating and our conversations have in turn become dueling monologues of complaints, where do we go from here?

I’m not quite naïve enough to suggest putting on rose-colored glasses and say, describing the loveliness of the dandelions that lined the road on which your puppy was run over.

Rather, a more realistic goal is trying to break the cycle of complaining. The next time someone approaches you with a gripe, it would do some good to give support rather than causing the conversation to spiral into the normal cyclone of complaining.

Or if your best bud is bellyaching about a stubbed toe and you just can’t handle hearing it anymore, throw some painkillers her way as a nice way of saying she needs to get over it.

Better yet, what if, rather than spending so much time and energy bemoaning the various facets of our lives, we tried to make some changes?

Can you imagine – gasp – having less about which to complain? Perhaps getting out of that job that’s running you into the ground and finding a more suitable substitute? Or losing that loser who’s taking your life in a direction you loathe? Extinguish the fire and you’re less likely to protest the flames.

Bottom line, the world isn’t likely to morph simply because you whine about it. Take the risk of taking your life into your own hands, and you just might realize your human existence isn’t so tragic after all.

Kate Nelson welcomes comments at [email protected]