I’ve had a conversation going on lately with a friend that’s reminded me of an old story from college. We’ve been talking about the habit of complaining and especially complaining but never doing anything to change things.
During my freshman year at NU I went to lunch one day with some friends. Apparently I was whining and complaining about something as we ate. Suddenly they looked up with great annoyance and informed me that I complain all the time. And they wouldn’t mind the complaining so much if I ever did something about it. But I never made an effort to fix anything; I just complained.
It was a life-changing moment for me, although the impact unfolded over the course of many years. It came as a great shock, and, of course, hurt my feelings at the time. But once I thought about it and observed myself for a while, I could see the justice in their accusation. And I tried to be conscious about not whinging all the time.
Many years passed before I started understanding more about that day and realized several layers of things were operating. That complaining thing is a big habit in my family. On both sides to some extent, but particularly on one side. One of my by-marriage aunts once confided to me that she didn’t like hanging around with her husband’s (my) family that much because they were always judging everyone as if they’re somehow the arbiters of right and wrong.
Upon consideration I could see the justice in her view, but more than that I could see that it’s more than just judging. It’s constantly looking around the world for what is wrong. Which, of course, they prefer to find in others 🙂 Sometimes I think they actually take pleasure in complaining. And maybe feel that grousing makes them somehow interesting. Or at least living lives full of drama. And I could see all that in me.
I’ve noted how that habit comes into play when a solution is suggested or the possibility of trying something is offered. The first reaction is to question it. To think up every single reason why it might not succeed. My parents still do it regarding just about any suggestion made. And I see others who instantly question things offered or solutions provided on a frantic hunt for the reason why it won’t work. I run into this pattern often enough to see that it’s a fairly common thread — though by no means familiar in all families.
The habit of complaining without solving means you don’t really want solutions. Hence, the corollary habit of rejecting solutions. Sometimes there’s so much angst involved in thinking up the reasons why an answer won’t solve the problem that I can’t quite decide which fear is greater: that they might try and it won’t work or that if they try things will get better.
Back at the college lunch scene, the girls who confronted me happened to all be from wealthy families and they had a gung-ho confidence about the world combined with an expectation of things working out as they wished that was completely foreign to me. Since then I’ve seen it isn’t just the wealthy. I’ve known people who somehow arrived with a positive attitude and a dose of self-confidence and maintained it regardless of environment, staying centered and knowing that all will be well.
The two sides often don’t get one another. Those who haven’t been raised to see the world as a hostile environment in which good seldom arrives tend not to get the deeply-seated beliefs of those who see the world as full of problems and grievances. Those who are used to complaining have trouble understanding the confidence and positivity of those who weren’t raised to expect the worst.
It recently struck me how much this divide impacts people trying to live by the Law of Attraction/Create Your Own Reality principles. Because if your ingrained way of thinking is to view the world as full of stuff to whine about and an unhappy place in which nothing you might try is likely to help, you’re pretty much never going to attract the positive stuff. The attraction of good stuff comes from that place of confidence and the assumption that good is coming.
It doesn’t help to do a daily meditation with a vision of a better job or relationship or more friends or deeper happiness, etc. if all the rest of the time you’re whining and complaining about all that’s wrong. It doesn’t help to say an affirmation a few times a day if the other thousands of daily thoughts in your head are about all the things you think are wrong or how you’re suffering, etc.
I’ve realized in waves how deeply ingrained the negative thinking habit has been in me and it’s been quite a journey to reach a different view — most of the time; I can still whine pretty good 🙂 Next time I’ll provide a bunch of suggestions about how you can get past these ingrained patterns.