Whining: I Did It Better in 8th Grade

Whiners! Everywhere! Get out of my brain! Print is not the place for people to take out their own life's grievances. Since I just started this blog, I've been looking around for some best practices, and a lot of what I find in other blogs is ungrounded complaints- more expletives than eloquence. "I HATE MY CELL PHONE COMPANY!" or "THE MEDIA IS KILLING OUR CULTURE!" I feel the same way about dealing with my cell phone company as I do about reading your blog: I don't really want to do it. Dwelling on issues without resolve doesn't make for interesting reading or living.

If you want to complain with results, here's how you do it: (tried and true...)

1. Start out nice. You'll get much further.

2. Present the problem in terms of reaching a solution. You'll get heard much more clearly.

3. Say thanks. So easy. I always forget this one, and it's the most important.

An example: as a grade school exercise, our class wrote formal letters to companies with whom we had legitimate complaints. We used the above formula to warrant ourselves a response from the company rather than a reciprocated middle finger. The first paragraph should begin on a good note by acknowledging something positive about the company, the second paragraph should describe the specific problem at hand without becoming too emotional, and the third paragraph should briefly thank the company for their consideration.

I wrote a letter to The Gap after an employee wrongfully blamed me for knocking over a rack of shoes (this was back when The Gap sold shoes) and then asked me to leave the store because I was too young to behave. I was searingly insulted, 13 going on 35. I wanted to trash the store with a baseball bat and scream "TOO YOUNG TO BEHAVE? YEAH? WELL CHECK THIS OUT!" I called my mom, fuming, "Come get me at the mall. I'm mad." Dang. I couldn't even drive. Adolescence sucks.

But thanks to my 8th grade English teacher, I wrote a letter instead of exploding with obscenities. Had I not been taught how to productively complain, I wouldn't have received a $50 gift certificate and an apology letter from the CEO of The Gap the next week in the mail. True story. I bought shoes to assuage the wounds.

Rage is reciprocated by rage. Ask any high school student. They'll respond much better to a whispered hallway conversation involving reason than a high-volume power struggle rearing its angry head. I think a lot of angry people have forgotten that the point of disagreeing is to create change, not to mope.

If you look at the root of the word complaint, it comes from the French complaindre or "to lament." The word rage, on the other hand, comes from a Latin root meaning "rabies" or "madness." Today, passionate lamentations are much further and fewer between than rabid grumblings.

When I think of a lamentation, I picture a sort of song of mourning, which has a beginning, an ending, and a reason for being sung: that is, a lamentation is a constructed means to a more positive end. I can name many people who almost delight in being miserable, who go to work to complain, who pick fights with waiters and cashiers, who would rather scowl and marinate in their grievances than work their way out of them. I don’t want to be around them. And I definitely don’t want to spend my spare time reading about them. I read to learn, not to regress.

I also find it interesting that "grievance" in the dictionary is not just something real that has gone wrong, it can also mean an imagined wrong. Why do we even have imagined wrongs? Don't we have enough unfortunate occurrences as is, without having to fill the newspaper, the screen, and the streets (road rage- horrible) with personal, projected problems? This seems counter-intuitive to the pleasure of reading, and moreover, the pleasure of living.

To end: I love reading good writing, but I'm tired of reading articles where wit is masked by pure pessimism. Dale Carnegie, an inspirational writer and lecturer of the 30s, said: "Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain—and most fools do." This much is true.

Here's my lamentation: eloquence is too often obscured by a stagnant condemnation of circumstance. I don't believe in unchangeable circumstances. Make your own. Lament. Learn the format for constructive criticism. Then write. Please stop crowding my brain with dogged, undirected complaints.

And thank you for reading.