Sunday, March 4, 2012

Thoughts on Complaining

I have a confession to make:  I've been mildly frustrated with Americans lately when I hear them complain about petrol prices, football games, or bad press in my hometown about a recent incident that involved a teacher and student.  I want to say, "Really? Aren't there bigger things in life about which to worry?"  I want to point out that the petrol price here in South Africa is twice as much as it is in California (if you do the conversion it comes out to $6.00/gallon).  I want to point out that football is just a game.  And I want to point out that there are bigger issues to deal with that one couples' actions: world poverty, for example, or sustainable energy sources.  Then I realised that I complain just as much, only about different things.

I complained about having to wait three years for our land line to be installed so we could get aDSL. I complain about having to stand in long queues. I complain about having to pay R115,20 ($15.00) in tolls every week just to use the highway, which is so congested that it usually takes 45 minutes to drive a 20-minute distance.  So where did the frustration with Americans come from?

In becoming frustrated with American complaints, I am taking a stance of superiority; I am assuming that my complaints are more valid than theirs.  And that's ridiculous!  I suppose, if you really wanted to be technical, you could come up with a ranking of "worthy complaints" based loosely upon Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs (and which ones are not being met), but would that really accomplish anything?

The real issue here is the complaining.  I justify my complaining by declaring it to be more "valid" than someone else's complaining.  But guess what?  It's still complaining, which doesn't accomplish anything.  Complaining doesn't solve the problem!

A better use of my time, perhaps, would be to work on creative solutions to the problem, or, if there aren't any, to use my energies in a more productive way - for instance, starting a conversation with the person in the queue rather than complaining about the queue itself.  It could be that the person behind or in front of me needs a word of encouragement, needs to be acknowledged as a human being.  I can give them that.  I can also be thankful that the toll and petrol prices aren't higher than they currently are (it could always be worse, right?).  And I can be thankful for a vehicle that gets me from Point A to Point B each day.

I think it's time to exchange that attitude of superiority for one of appreciation.  The catalyst in the equation is - not surprisingly - PERSPECTIVE.

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