I live in Pennsylvania, where it sometimes snows in the winter. It snowed last night. Some people love it. Some hate it. Some live with it. Some appreciate it. Some flee from it. Is there any point in complaining about it?
We all know people that we could characterize as “negative.” They seem to have something negative to say about everything! Perhaps you are one of these people. (If you’re not sure, but would like to explore the possibility, check out this article.)
I’ll go ahead and share, right off the bat, that I am the opposite of negative. I am naturally positive. I look for the light in everything. This has worked well for me. I have groomed and developed this trait in myself, and I have found that it makes me feel happy to be optimistic and plus-minded.
That being said, I am close to people who “see the dark side of things” very clearly, communicate them regularly, and tend to focus or “hone in on” what feels negative. As it happens, my friends who lean toward the negative are also very good and interesting communicators. They are not clouds of despair or drones of doom.
Recently, I was pondering the idea of criticising one of my friend’s tendency to criticise when the irony struck me; Am I doing exactly what I dislike in others? Why do I dislike what my friend did? Is there a place for criticism? Is criticism inherently negative? Is there a way to do it that is more classy?
This line of thinking led me down a path of researching “Negative People”; specifically people who complain. Social media is filled with memes, quotes, and advice about staying away from “Negative People.” In my experience, if you live on Earth, you can not completely avoid this type of person. So, I have taken it upon myself to learn a little more about them… Even, appreciate what they bring to the table.
According to Biswas-Diener, R. (2017), the act of “complaining is simply expressing dissatisfaction.” Something was lacking. An experience came up short. After summation, the end result was not positive in one way or another. To voice or communicate this deficit is to complain, but does the act of complaining “take away from” or “make negative” the situation that was “dissatisfying”?
There are a variety of ways to complain, some better than others. Biswas-Diener, R. (2017) writes about the chronic complainer. If you don’t know someone like this, you’ve heard of the person who seems to be addicted to seeing only the negative. They “ruminate on problems and focus on setbacks.” This attitude of unhappiness actually rewires not only the brains of chronic complainers, but the thinking of those subjected to listening (reading social media posts from said individuals counts).
Additionally, there are people who don’t seem to be consumed with complaining, but just have to get certain things off of their chest… ALL THE TIME! These people are “venters” (Biswas-Diener, R. 2017). They aren’t looking for solutions; Just listening ears to take in the complaining. This act of giving breath to venters validates their feelings of having been wronged. The act of listening to someone venting is not bad. It is friendly, but empowering them to fill air with negativity may not be the most healthy long-term practice. Think about regulating the acceptance of vented air. It may be healthy to help your friend find validation in a variety of ways, weaning them from the practice of spreading negativity.
Have you ever complained? Of course. We all complain. But, do you do it well? Or, have you fallen into the traps of chronic complaining and/or venting regularly? According to Scott, E. (2020), complaining in small doses can be a healthy stress relief. And, Complaining correctly can be constructive for others.
Right before composing this blog, I saw a tweet that praised a kid book that shared New Years traditions. The book had a catchy title, and I was interested in using it, so I looked it up. It had very high reviews, but one of the first write-ups was only 3 stars. I read this one, and very much appreciated the writer’s sincere, honest criticism of the text and illustrations. While I’m sure that the book has plenty of positive characteristics, this qualified reviewer (her background includes the culture that the book teaches) pointed out some significant flaws. In the end, I decided not to buy the book. It might add to the discussion about varying New Year’s traditions around the world, but seemed to be more “fluff” than fact. I greatly appreciated this critical review. It may have focused on negative aspects of the book, but it didn’t leave me with a poor attitude toward it. Plenty of other people will buy and enjoy it a lot.
This review could be characterized as “complaining.” The writer was pointing out elements that were dissatisfactory. That being said, the “complaint” has several classy elements to it. First and foremost, it was written in order to help people make an informed and intelligent decision. While it may point out the shortcomings of the book, it did not tear it up or leave me with disrespect for its author. It takes a lot to publish a children’s book. There were plenty of attractive things about the book that this reviewer allows to remain unscathed by criticism. The elements that were discussed in the review, while creating a sense of lacking in the picture book that it referenced, which could be viewed as “negative” by some, actually added to my understanding of the topic, thereby creating a positive balance in the end.
When a complaint is made in order to help people, and provides beneficial information that adds to the intellectual ether, it can be very classy to share. In fact, all of the reviews that praised the topic, rewarding the book with 5 stars, glowing praise, and thoughtless recommendations are creating a negative result in that they are ignoring the parts of the text that are not good. This process of undue enthusiasm fosters a bubble of fake optimism. People drawn to positive thoughts and feelings, like moths to a flame, will buy, use, and share the book, blindly following the advice of the blithely reporting online. Never thoroughly exploring the content of the text, whether it was accurate, misleading, or downright deceptive, allows a vacuum of overly positive vibes to suck people into uncritically purchasing and preaching ideas that are not well-balanced.
Because of the snow, my school district decided to have staff and students experience a “Flexible Instruction Day” (FID) today. This means that teaching will be done online, via Google Meet. There probably won’t be any complaining about this. Ha ha. I can’t even imagine being an administrator who has to deal with a never-ending stream of complaints, no matter what decision is made. Wear masks; Don’t wear them. Return to school; Begin virtual learning, again. Two-hour-delay, closure, FID, or 100% open EVERY time there is inclement weather! You will never make everyone happy, and there will be complaints galore, no matter what you choose.
One way that administrators curb the toxicity of chronic complaining about decisions is by providing reasons for their decisions. If a complaint is viewed as the communication of dissatisfaction, the lack of satisfaction could be quelled by knowing that at least a lot of thought went into the decision, and that it was made with the hope to help people have the best experience possible. When a parent, teacher, administrator, etc. says, “You should do what I said because I told you to do it,” they are communicating a negativity in that they acknowledge the lack of satisfaction, but don’t do anything to fill the void. This feeling of discontent will form a blackhole for respect. Any and all admiration, approval, and appreciation for the leader will get sucked in with the realization that “this person does not actually care about me.”
A person who selfishly “vents” all of the time or habitually complains as a rule of thumb may be too narcissistic to see what it does to the people around them. A classy person may try to help the narcissist see others and appreciate what complaining does to the community. It could be classy to help neighbors use their complaining to identify solutions. Criticism could fuel change and growth (Scott, E. 2020). It can be motivational. And, there are times when all you can do is avoid the black hole. Distancing yourself from the pull of negativity and vanishing respect might be the healthiest, safest course of action.
My main takeaway from researching the pluses and minuses of complaining is that a classy person does not shun the negative. We should acknowledge this shadow of human behavior and appreciate what it can provide. While it is important to maintain mental health, and because it isn’t healthy to ignore legitimate feelings, whether yours or a close companions, complaints ought to be heard and analyzed. Ask yourself, “What is the motivation behind this complaint?” Consider, “Is this person just needing to vent? Perhaps it is important for their feelings to be validated. Is this one of an endless stream of complaints, and feeding this habit will strengthen a beast of negativity in my friend.”
It might be classiest to confront your friend. Or, the classiest thing to do could be taking action based on the dissatisfaction a colleague or subordinate has communicated. Here’s an idea: Ask the complainer what they would like you to do with the information that they are sharing. “It sounds like you had an awful experience. Would you like me to help you deal with this? Is there anything that I can do to help?” These questions could show that you listened, are willing to help, and care about the well-being of your friend. If you ask these questions, be prepared to follow through.
Biswas-Diener, R. (2017, June 13). The Three Types of Complaining. Psychology Today. Retrieved January 8, 2022, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/significant-results/201706/the-three-types-complaining
Daniel, A. (2019, December 23). 23 Signs You’re a Negative Person, According to Mental Health Experts. Best Life. Retrieved January 7, 2022, from https://bestlifeonline.com/signs-too-negative/
Higgs, M. M. (2020, January 6). Go Ahead and Complain. It Might Be Good for You. New York Times. Retrieved January 9, 2022, from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/06/smarter-living/how-to-complain-.html
Scott, E. (2020, November 23). Hidden Benefits and Pitfalls of Complaining. Very Well Mind. Retrieved January 9, 2022, from https://www.verywellmind.com/complaining-why-do-we-do-it-3144857