The Value of Complaining in the Well-Adjusted life
Possibly my mother (and someone else's too) just closed this tab with well-deserved disgust. "Did we teach you nothing?"
Well, I was taught not to complain about weeding the strawberry bed if I wanted to enjoy the upcoming strawberry pie. Does that count?
THE VALUE OF COMPLAINING
I had actually written an entire blog post about this with a very different title about how complaining was ruining my life. It was scheduled and ready to hit cyberspace when I looked up the definition to complaining:
Re: to express grief, pain, or discontent. [Merriam-Webster]
I couldn't in good conscience post the other one anymore, because as much as it was clear complaining could warp reality into something more concrete than it is meant to be, there's also value to expressing emotion. If someone is grieving, we do not call it complaining in negative tones, such as we do about someone who is griping about having to weed the strawberry bed on a hot Missouri day. The first is a necessary part to processing deep emotion, the second is merely a passing fling with discontent and possible sun stroke.
How do we figure this thing out? I'm perfectly sure that mom was right in making me stop complaining about a job that was about to reap benefits in the form of luscious strawberries.
But I'm also perfectly sure that sometimes we need to complain.
Maybe it has something to do with reality.
The back story to this is I've been struggling to catch a good grip on life again lately. Everything has seemed stale, and I've sifted through possibilities of expecting things from friendship that belong to my relationship with God, or that maybe I've lost my touch with writing, or perhaps it was hot weather ennui. At the end of the day though, what I really couldn't come to terms with was loneliness, and the consequent, clammy feeling of isolation.
Perhaps you never feel isolation? Do you? Recently a group conversation I was part of revealed that most of us sometimes feel really alone in a crowd. Does that almost make a tear spring to your eye? One is hovering in mine. It's because it's a very real, devastating feeling. Feeling alone while alone is hard, but feeling alone with people is worse.
I'm complaining about it right now, but I am not accepting it as my permanent reality. If I kept this feeling locked up, and never talked about it, it is a sure thing that the isolation would just intensify it. Now I feel as if you and I understand each other a little more, helping us both (at least me) to feel a little less isolated.
There you have the value of complaining.
Now, if I took my pen in hand to complain on and on about the extra inch around my lower waist that is there by dint of my eating habits, that would be a complaining with little value because I have no current plans to stop eating dessert. In that case, it's not likely to garner much sympathy, and nor should it.
THE ROLE OF SYMPATHY IN COMPLAINING
Sometimes we should sympathize when people complain. Sometimes we should not. I think in all our heads right now it's pretty plain that if someone has cancer and complains of pain, we will take them seriously. However, the person who consistently gets drunk and has a hangover with a headache is much less likely to win any sympathy from the rest of us. The distinction in our heads is the external circumstance forced upon us as compared to a condition we put ourselves into. If our own destructive habits get us into a situation it's harder to gain sympathy.
There are no hard and fast rules for this though, because sometimes someone's excessive consumption of sugar, or smoking habit will imbalance their body and they get cancer. In this case do we deny all empathy or sympathy?
That's pretty heartless to enforce at all times. We all make mistakes that lead to consequences, and divine and human aid are equally needed to fight it.
My mother was quite right to make me stop complaining about something so trivial as weeding, but she was the first one to sympathize with a bad earache. If she had refused sympathy for all of our pains, we would've grown up quite emotionally starved. Emotion serves purpose. Emotion is good.
But emotion is not our guiding reality. To allow ourselves to enter a constant state of complaining is where the damage comes. The feeling of isolation I've felt has been debilitating, but not destructive because (a.) it's not true and (b.) I won't live as if it is. I'm surrounded by one of the greatest networks of friends a human being can probably have, and I can't pin this on them, so instead the underpinning reality is one that supersedes time and says, "things are not ok right now, and I don't have to pretend they are. But things will be ok."
Introspection to reassess where I am as a person has made a difference, and reconnecting with friends has given me the arsenal to rebutt the feelings. To withdraw from life and connections in the middle of a tricky time is a recipe for disaster.
Complaining has value in the healing of emotions. When we are suffering, telling someone about it can be one of the greatest reliefs, and indeed essential for eventual well-being and adjustment.
But let's not confuse suffering with petty discontents. The small inconveniences that are bound to hit us all don't really enter the picture in how temporary, and how good they are for us. Yes, good. Most of the little things that we don't like in life: hot or cold weather (sorry you have to live on planet earth) food that isn't prepared to our liking, chores, household issues, car problems, or a person that annoys us, are things that are building excellent character. Don't dodge these things. They will make you a better person.
For that matter, even though it is much more painful, we cannot dodge suffering either. Time after time has yielded success stories of the most beautiful order for folks presented with truly daunting circumstances, who through perseverance in perspective have walked out the other side as near saints. It is hardly ever the actual suffering that defines our future selves, it is our response to it.
FOR THE SAINTS AND SINNERS
Complaining can give us the relief we need to press on. So find that safe place in which to complain, by which I mean the greatest sympathizer of all troubles, and abide in Him. In so doing, don't forget that in His closest creation (man) he has displayed image and relationship, so that we should and ought take comfort in one another as well.
It's not wrong. People can't save our souls, but it's ultimately destructive not to develop deep relationships that can bear the weight of each other's burdens.