“It is a waste of time to be angry about my disability. One has to get on with life and I haven’t done badly. People won’t have time for you if you are always angry or complaining.” – Stephen Hawking
We, as U.S. citizens, have so much to be grateful for. The scientists and politicians of our past have eradicated most disease and ensured that wars are not fought on our soil. We live in comfort and safety while surrounded by abundance. Yet most of our verbal interactions involve some sort of complaint. Think I am wrong? Try this out for a day: wear a rubber band on one of your wrists. Every time you complain (yes, every time) move the band from one wrist to the other. This physical action will bring awareness to your words.
I first read about this exercise in Will Bowen’s book “A Complaint Free World“. The goal is to go 21 consecutive days without moving the rubber band (you can use another kind of bracelet in it’s place – obviously that’s not the important point here, although if you are complaining about having to use a rubber band, that is the point here). It’s much harder than it sounds, and I will admit that I never achieved 21 consecutive days. It’s still one of my goals, so I will be coming back to it.
What makes this exercise so difficult is that when someone complains the natural response is to either A) console the person with sympathy, thereby rewarding their behavior and promoting more complaining or B) agree with them, thereby feeding into the cycle of complaints. While doing this exercise, you become hyper-aware of the complaints of others, and one of the most difficult complaints to field are those that come in the form of a greeting. I currently live in Phoenix, and it is an understatement to say it gets hot here. I work on a huge industrial campus, and the parking lot is half a mile from the office. By the time us office folk get to work its often above 90 degrees F, and when leaving work, it can be over 110 degrees F. It’s hot, and everyone knows it’s hot. You can legitimately get a second degree burn from your seatbelt. Yet one of the most common greetings between office folk while walking to or from the car is the complaint “Man, it’s hot out here”. Before attempting the 21 day challenge, I would have taken the complaint bait and sent a complaint of my own right back, leaving the world just slightly more negative with my words. Then at the beginning of the 21 day challenge, I was aware that I should not complain back to this person but what I really wanted to say was “Stop complaining!” I wanted to complain about their complaining! I knew that this was not a positive response, so I just kept my mouth shut and nodded. Finally I started thinking about how to respond, how to take this common situation and spin it in a positive light. Like I said, it’s a long, hot walk to and from the office, so I had plenty of time to think about this. The next time someone mentioned how hot it was I told them how thankful I was to be getting some sun on this pasty skin – and how much I appreciate the vitamin D! This brought a huge smile to most people’s faces and the conversation following that comment was often far more jovial and enjoyable.
“What you seek, you will find. When you complain, you are using the incredible power of your mind to seek things that you say you don’t want but nonetheless draw them to you. Then you complain about these new things and attract more of what you don’t want.” -Will Bowen
I may not be able to convince your spouse to stop complaining, but if you think you are an innocent bystander in the game of complaints, try the 21 day challenge. When your significant other asks why you are wearing the bracelet, explain that you are trying to be a more positive example and better influence on the people around you by attempting this challenge, and invite them to join. Just don’t blame me if you find you have nothing to talk about at the dinner table on the first night. It’s harder than it sounds!
To take your understanding of complaints even deeper, read the following passage from 11 Days at The Edge by Michael Wombacher.
From 11 Days:
“So if we’re going to create a new world, which is actually what I want to do, that world would be made up of individuals who could handle their own mind and handle their own emotions so you wouldn’t really need to ask them how they were becaue you knew they were fine, exept if something was really wrong.
You see, the point is you don’t want to burden somebody with your emotional ups and downs because you care for them and they have problems of their own. And if they care about you they don’t want to burden you either because you have problems of your own, right?
Thats a new definition of compassion.
Remember, I’m talking about radical sanity. I’m talking about an idealistic possibility. I’m not talking about the world we’re living in, that’s for sure. So what I’m talking about would only become possible if the individuals who made up this new world were capable of handling their own mind and their own emotions. They could bear it. As I always say, if the individual cannot bear his or her own thoughts and emotions someone else is going to have to.
If you can’t handle your own mind and your own emotions other people inevitably have to suffer the consequences. We don’t live in a bubble. So the degree to which the individual refuses to handle their own mind and their own emotions because of a lack of maturity is the degree to which other people inevitably have to suffer as a result. So therefore, if you realy care about other people, you will take responsibility for and bear your own experience so they won’t have to suffer the consequences. That’s true maturity and compassion.
But most people don’t care about other people… Narcissists don’t have real relationships with other human beings because a narcissist is the center of their own universe. For a narcissist other people are just objects that they use to adorn their own image of themselves. They use them like jewelry or like clothes and when it’s old or if it’s not working they throw it out. A lot of us do that. We don’t have real relationships. It’s something worth thinking about. What is a real relationship all about anyway?
If I realize that freedom is a posture I take in relationship to all of my experience rather than any particular experience and I practice that then, in my own way, I’m beginning to help change the world that I’m living in.
That should mean that I’m no longer going to burden the world with my own emotional and psychological self-indulgence. Because, especially in the arena of human relationships, it’s serious, isn’t it? That’s what creates hell on earth, right? In human relationships, when people don’t take responsibility for their own mind and own emotions, it’s like emotional and psychological warfare and terrorism. So you can have psychological and emotional suicide bombers, hmm? They sit in front of you and they blow themselves up emotionally and psychologically. Believe me, it creates a lot of damage to everybody who’s nearby, right? That’s what’s so powerful about being a suicide bomber. So pathological narcissists are often like suicide bombers, you see?
So my point is, if you care about human relationships you make damn sure you’re very careful about your relationship to your own mind and emotions. Because you realize your relationship to your own mind and emotions is directly connected to your relationship with other human beings because we’re all connected to each other on many different levels.”