Stop Complaining

Author: Gustavo Cardoso Some time ago, a friend of mine was unexpectedly asked to teach an extraordinary class and I was tasked with picking up her son at his school. As soon as I saw the boy at the entrance of the school, before we could even say hello, he asked me, “where is my mother?” As he said this he sounded mushy and sad as he realised that his mother was not going to pick him up at school.

As we walked back home he asked me, “what are we having for dinner”. I promptly replied that we would have wild rice with sun dried tomatoes and artichokes. At this point he deflated like a balloon, it seemed a helpless situation.

Like in a scene from a movie, halfway through our walk home, his eyes drenched, he said: “if only you knew how hard my life is.”

The hilarious nature of the situation struck me hard and I had to make a super-human effort not to laugh. Nonetheless, I understood he felt he had a colossal and deep drama in his life, indeed a very difficult place to be at.

When I look back at this scene I always feel warmth in my heart as I know the little boy has overcome his drama. Today he loves the dish we had for dinner that night and he is, everyday, more independent from his mother.

This boy was 7 years old at the time. No one could remove his right to feel what he was feeling, and we, as adults, have the obligation to give him as much support and affection as was necessary to help him overcome all the obstacles in life empowering him to succeed as a person.

I can absolutely understand this behaviour in a boy, but it is when adults are having this behaviour that I get confounded. Why would they waste their energy complaining about life? When have complaints ever changed anything. Life only changes with attitudes. What changes our lives are actions, not complaints.

There is a very famous phrase from a Brazilian priest which states:

"Our actions make us who we are. What is not done does not exist. Therefore, we only really exist when we are taking actions. On those days in which we do nothing, we merely survive."

I cannot agree enough with this gentleman, I think this phrase is fantastic.

What intrigues me is to see people who have everything in life and still continue complaining. Very much like the young boy. We can easily relate to this boy’s situation to model and understand our own complaints. He was but a few moments from seeing and enjoying the company of his mother. He had a delicious dinner ready for him. Yet, he still regarded his situation as hopeless. This anxiety, however, is understandable when coming from a child who does not have many years of experience.

But if you are an adult who has lived, who has experienced many situations both pleasurable and harsh, if you catch yourself complaining, try substituting your complaints with the following: What can I do to change this situation? This inevitably leads to asking yourself the only pertinent question:

What is it that I am not doing, but which, if I did do, would change everything?

The answer to this question normally is not complaining. What we find is that most of the time we fail to change, to improve, not because it is impossible, but rather, because we create the barriers ourselves, we think we cannot change. So all that is left is complaining.

I can assure, with a fair amount of certainty, that people generally fail to change, not because they don’t want to, but because we are paralysed from fear of what could result if we indeed changed.

Once, when I was talking with a great teacher and friend about this subject I asked him at the height of my innocence, “Professor, why are some people so happy and have such good lives whilst others live so miserably in spite of having all the resources and access to education, health, transportation, everything that is necessary to live a good life?”

He humbled me with his answer, “Gustavo, we are addicted to mediocrity”

I agree with him, there are aspects of my life I know I need to change but sometimes I find myself complaining. I cannot speak of the anger I feel with myself when I catch myself behaving this way, for I know it will not take me anywhere, it will solve nothing whilst wasting my energy complaining.

What I would like to ask you, dear reader, is: what is your attitude towards life? Are a complainer or a doer?