Thursday, August 6, 2009

You don't need to complain just because you can

Recently I caught myself have a good old whine about someone. They had done the wrong thing. Which meant I had to do something I shouldn’t have to do. And basically, I was being treated very unfairly.

First of all, I complained to the person involved. Then when they wouldn’t listen to me anymore, I carried on complaining to myself. I even thought about ringing my friend just so I could have someone else to complain to. And I was quite sure that she would agree with me and commiserate with me on my unjust treatment.

The only thing that stopped me was a little sentence that came into my head. You don’t need to complain just because you can.

A lot of the time, people seem to live under the assumption that just because they’ve got a good reason to complain, they should complain. It’s almost seen as an obligation. And it’s very hard to let go of that. If we don’t complain, we feel like we’re saying that what they did was okay.

Now there’s perhaps some truth in that, when it comes to complaining to the person involved. If somebody is getting hurt, we should speak up. And there’s certainly nothing in the bible to say that we should let people walk all over us. But sometimes we spend a lot of time complaining about things where nobody actually is getting hurt. Just because something is unfair doesn’t mean that anybody is being harmed or seriously disadvantaged because of it.

Sometimes we need to complain to the person, but stop the complaining inside our head. Complaining about someone either to ourselves or to others doesn’t hurt the person involved. It doesn’t even change things. If somebody continues to do the wrong thing, even after you’ve said something, they’re not going to change their mind just because you spend a whole lot of time thinking about what they did wrong. Then there are the times when people do a lot of complaining about someone, but say nothing to the person they’re annoyed with.

But even when we should complain to someone, and there are very good reasons for speaking up, we also need to learn when to stop complaining. Some people will continue to do the wrong thing, no matter how many reasons are put forward for why they are acting inappropriately. To constantly battle such people is just a drain. There are times when we need to accept that someone has done or is doing the wrong thing and nothing can be done about it.

But it’s often in those times that it is hardest to stop complaining. When somebody won’t change what they are doing, all we have left is complaining. That and praying. And prayers in these cases can often be just complaining to God. We feel like we need to complain. It’s all we have left.

Yet it’s also in these times that complaining can do the most harm. We just get more and more frustrated with something that can’t be changed. We feel the need to go over it constantly in our heads, preventing us from achieving any real peace. It can even spill out into other relationships. And if our friends should tell us not to complain so much, we will ask them whether they think that was has happened was right, with the underlying assumption that if it was wrong, they should listen to us complain as much as we like.

But whether what happened was right or not shouldn’t be the issue. When somebody does the wrong thing, we aren’t obligated to complain about. We can simply accept it and move on. To accept something is not to say that it’s okay. It’s instead to say I’ve done all I can do about this situation and it’s time to let it go.

And really, we’d be a lot happier if we let a lot more opportunities to complain just pass us by. Deciding not to complain is not letting the culprit off the hook. It’s letting ourselves off the hook. It’s refusing to let that person’s actions hurt us anymore than they already have.

(Image details - A gargoyle of a nagging wife - from Grendon, Northamptonshire church. Picture by R Neil Marshman (c). This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0. Image taken from Wikipedia Commons.)

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