Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Urge to Complain

This week, someone did something I didn’t like. Plus, it involved my children, which is more annoying than if they had simply hurt me. My first temptation was to ring that certain person and tell them what I thought of them. But then I decided it wouldn’t really solve anything, and would only make things worse for my boys. My next temptation was to ring up a friend. I was pretty sure, if I searched around for, oh, about two seconds, I could easily find somebody else to agree that what she did was pretty awful. But I didn’t do that either. My sister sent me an email today. And at the end, I was about to add a footnote about this horrible thing this person had done. But I ended up deleting it.

The first temptation, when someone does something we don’t like, is always to criticise them. And if we don’t criticise the person to their face, we criticise them behind their backs. Ring up a friend. Send an email. I suppose the modern version is to send a text message or put it on Facebook.

Little children do it. I don’t know how many times a day, I have one son or the other coming to me and telling me what terrible things their brother has done. It’s a pretty common reaction for children to have. And I don’t know why they continue to do it. Because it never gets a good response from me. It may be normal for children to tell on their siblings, but it’s not something I want to encourage. I am hoping that as they mature, they will eventually grow out of it.

Then again, maybe not. Because I know my initial reaction to anything is still to tell someone. Just like a little primary school child – So and so did this today. Usually, I talk myself out of it. But that desire to dob is still there. And sometimes I may not tell anyone, but I end up doing a blog post about it. I pretend that it’s okay, because I am writing a blog and this is what I want to talk about. But maybe all I’m really doing is satisfying that urge to complain.

Maybe that’s all I’m doing now.

Someone did something wrong. Despite the initial temptation to ring her up and yell at her, I decided that wasn’t the Christian thing to do. I also decided that ringing her up and speaking calmly to her about it wasn’t in the best interests of my children – because it would mean saying that my son said that you said this. Also, it seemed quite petty. Save my phone calls for more important issues. Then I decided that even speaking to someone about it wasn’t the most mature way to handle it. Not only wasn’t it mature, but it would only fuel my anger. Because I knew that whoever I spoke to would agree with me and start complaining about it as well.

So instead I write a post. I might kid myself that this is a mature way to deal with my feelings. But it’s still giving into that temptation to complain. And very similar to the childish need to dob on someone. It’s just a different way of doing it.

It’s not the first time I have acted out of anger this week. I was in a shop and, without going into all the details, I waited as people who came after me were served first and I was treated as if I were not even there. I got so angry that I left the tops I was buying on the counter and stormed off. It didn’t make me feel any better. In fact, I felt so bad, that I went back later to apologise.

I think releasing our anger may sometimes help. But generally, it just leaves us feeling angrier. The problem is it’s often hard to deal with our anger by not saying anything. I wish I could. I wish that I could handle offence a lot better than what I currently do. It would be nice to hear that someone has said something or done something and simply put it out of my mind. Forgive and forget. I believe that the people who find it easiest to forgive and forget must be some of the happiest people around. For they have peace, where others have anger and bitterness.

I would like to experience that peace one day. In fact, one of the things that I would love to accomplish somewhere near the end of my life (for I know there’s no chance I’ll be getting there anytime soon) is the peace that comes through that type of forgiveness.

I may be far from that at the moment, but there is one thing I know. If I am ever going to get there, I will need to resist the constant temptation to complain about what other people have done. And I will also need to stop writing blog posts that are only fuel my anger.


  1. Hi Liz,

    St Francis de Sales is sometimes referred to as the Gentleman Saint, due to his meekness. But, he was not always meek. It took him 20 years to get to the stage where he was completely in control of his anger.

    After he died, they examined his body, and performed an autopsy. When they removed his bile, they found 33 stones, symbolic of his heroic efforts in conquering his inclination to anger and bad temper.

    His book, Introduction to the Devout Life, is well worth a read. It is full of instructions on various virtues and how to attain and practice them. The book is also a collection of letters he wrote to a pious woman.

    David ...

  2. Hi David,

    Thanks for sharing that story about St Francis de Sales. It's a good one for me to remember whenever I am tempted to say 'I wish I could be like that person'. When I see people with good character traits, it's easy to think it just comes naturally to them or wish I was born the same way. I forget that developing those traits actually takes a lot of hard work and discipline. They don't just happen.

    I'll have to look out for Introduction to the Devout Life. It sounds like a good one to read.




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