Friday, August 21, 2009

The Art of Complaining


Complaining well is really an art, I’ve discovered. If you are very skilled at it, you can actually complain without someone knowing that you are disgruntled, while simultaneously leaving the other person feeling responsible and guilty.

Here is the truth, I am a master at complaining and doing so without someone realizing I’ve just blamed them for the entire problem I am experiencing. I spent the better part of my life learning this skill, and now I find the craft has become useless to me. That’s right—completely useless.

When I chose to embrace profound honesty and integrity as part of my spiritual practice, the art of complaining had to go. Complaining is a form of blame and when I complain it means I’m not taking full responsibility for the reality I have created and accepted into my life. Since integrity to me means taking full responsibility, complaining has needed to become an old, but retired practice, or so I thought.

A few months ago, as part of a class assignment on intention, I kept track of my complaints in a single day. I was shocked. I consider myself to be a very positive, supportive, self-responsible person, but my complaint factory was still in operation. Even if I didn’t say anything out loud, the complaint was still there, hanging out in the break-room of my mind. My internal company policy is to live complaint-free, but clearly part of my mind had other ideas.

I couldn’t even say my complaints were about serious global or societal issues. Somehow, I’ve been able to recognize the grander issues as part of greater earthly dysfunctional drama bringing itself to closure. I was complaining about insignificant details in my life, like bread-crumbs being left on the counter.

My inner household law-enforcement agent was on the look-out for any violations of home cleanliness. So my husband was getting busted repeatedly for what I considered to be blatant disregard of the household rule, “Clean up after yourself.”

Now, I’m an educator. I learned years ago that you get better results when you invite people to participate and thank them when they do. Complaining rarely gets the results you really want, but there I was violating an even greater principle and that was to refrain from blaming and take responsibility.

How do you reconcile that, when he is the guy making the messes? “Didn’t I have a right to complain?” I wondered.

Fortunately, he was looking at his own complaint ratio, too, since we were taking the class together. So, I invited us to talk about what was going on behind the complaints. I listened to him tell me about how over-worked he was feeling and overwhelmed with the number of business challenges coming up for him.

He listened to me as I explained that being left to clean up after him caused me to feel undervalued, as though my work and service is not as important as his, so it was okay if I did the clean-up.

Of course, our interpretations about what was going on were just that— interpretations. No one was expecting him to overwork or find immediate solutions, and my husband wasn’t expecting me to constantly clean up after him.

With clearer understandings, he stopped complaining about his business challenges, and instead asked me to spend some time consulting with him on a couple of issues. I stopped complaining about household dirt. I invited him to clean up after himself whenever he felt he could spare the time so that neither of us would have to bear the burden later on. I also thanked him whenever he did. And I ignored a few messes.

It’s a lot nicer at our house now. It’s actually pretty darned clean for two busy people, and we are both remembering to embrace the challenges with enthusiasm. I think now I can fully abandon the art of complaining!

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