“Neurons” Meta Reflections 2015 #44
October 12, 2015
Creating Response-Able Persons #8

To complain is to be human. Nothing unhuman about that. Find a human being and there will always be complaining. It comes with citizenship. When you are born human and grow up human, you learn to complain. To an extent, this is good. Maslow talked about this in terms of grumbles. He noted that when people get to the being-level of experience then your grumbles go meta. They become meta-grumbles. I didn’t invent that phrase, it comes straight from Maslow’s 1954 book. Meta-grumbles are grumbles about injustice, lack of beauty, need for more accurate knowledge, need for more profound meaning and meaningful— that kind of thing. It is not grumbling about money, bickering about someone else getting a promotion, or fussing about having to wait in line.

High level grumbles indicate that a person has moved to the being-level of experience and beginning to live a self-actualizing life. By contrast, low level grumbles typically indicate that you are still struggling to meet the basic animal needs for survival, safety (stability), love and affection (social needs), and self-needs (that you count and are a somebody). Yet everything can be distorted and misused. So can grumbling. Complaining can make a person’s life go sour.

In fact, when you are complaining and not taking action, you are just complaining. And with that, you are probably undermining, even sabotaging, your personal power and responsibility. Because that’s a pretty heavy charge as well as a profound understanding of the relationship between being a responsible person and a complainer— let’s look deeper into it.

First, note the contrast. Response-ability, as the power or ability to respond describes your actions when you are using your emotions to move you to take effective action to make things better. Complaining, as talk to someone else, assumes that you can’t do anything, so you are trying to enlist someone else to take effective action for something you care about. Yet in reciting a verbal list of the things you don’t like, don’t prefer, and want someone else to change —you are avoiding your own responsibilities. And isn’t that what children do? Isn’t that an expression of powerlessness and victimhood?

Shifting from taking actions and engaging in effective behaviors to just talking about things and reciting lists of grumbles both expresses the lack of power and deepens that lack. Think about this in terms of the following:

∙ Complaining that you don’t feel like getting up and going to work.

∙ Complaining that you aren’t motivated to exercise.

∙ Complaining that no one else you with a project.

∙ Complaining about the food in the cafeteria.

∙ Complaining that the temperature is too cold, too hot, not enough fresh air, etc.

The funny thing is that some people feel good, nurture themselves, and/or think that they are doing something constructive about a problem when they complain. Imagine that! All you have to do is think about that for a few seconds and recognize how silly that is. When someone recently complained to me, I asked about his complaining. “Have you thought about doing something about this problem?” They said, “I am. I’m telling you so you can do something about it.” Ah yes, you solve a problem that you have by getting someone else to solve it! The problem was that he didn’t like the air conditioner being set on the temperature it was set on. Prior to that, the setting of the temperature was explained to the group. But instead of accepting that and grabbing a sweater or layering clothes—effective actions he could have taken—he recited how cold he was to everyone who would listen. Poor man!

Here then is a pseudo-grumble, an illegitimate complaint. Here the dissatisfaction may be real, but in the final analysis, it is just a dissatisfaction that is better accepted with grace and magnanimity. After all, there’s lots of things in life that can irritate, annoy, and piss you off which aren’t worth rally a campaign against. Sure, you have to wait in line. Yes, sometimes the temperature in a room isn’t to your liking. Someone uses a word that you don’t care for. In fact, if you are looking for something to be dissatisfied about and complain about— there are plenty of things. You’ll find them everywhere! And if you develop a complaining perceptual lens, you will increasingly find them.

What do you do with complainers? Is there somewhere you can go to get away from them? Sadly, no. You’re just going to have to learn to deal with them! So rather than complain about the complainers, here are some ideas about how to respond:

∙ “Great!” (That will annoy them.) “What are you going to do about it?”

∙ “Sounds like you have a problem … to solve. How will you do that?”

∙ “Sorry to hear that [empathy], do you need me to coach you for accessing your resources so that you can either accept it, be gracious about it, or learn to reframe it?”

What do you do when the person you have to live with as a complainer is you? That’s more challenging. At least with an external complainer, you can leave. But you can’t do that with the internal complainer! Now you have to go to bed every night with that complainer!

∙ Access the states of observation and acceptance and reduce the amount of complaints you create.

∙ Access appreciation and see if you can find three values in every complain you create.

∙ Gauge the misery level that complaining creates for you so you sense the price you are paying for complaining your way through life.

∙ Imagine being in the presence of a truly Great Person, someone you stand in awe of, and notice how the tendency to complain melts away.

∙ Recognize that complaining is what undeveloped and irresponsible children do and give yourself a big kick in the ass when you even think about complaining.

∙ Find a Meta-Coach or a Neuro-Semantic Trainer so you can create some great meanings for the irritations of life.

L. Michael Hall, Ph.D.