Featured Articles

Daily Connect: Quit Complaining

Whenever I'm socializing with friends or family,  invariably some part of the conversation is devoted to complaining.  From the political, ("I'm sick of hearing about those stupid "Birthers"), to the financial ("$3 for a cup of coffee?!"), to the personal ("I wish my mother would stop telling everyone about my divorce"), I find myself encouraging others' grievances and sharing my own.   Why are we all so dissatisfied?  Do we have good reason for it?  Can we stop doing it?  

The first noble truth is often translated as "unsatisfactoriness".  From this point of view, each of us regards our experience as somehow "not enough" or generally displeasing; our life is lacking something and nothing we do (or buy) seems to satisfy our unease.   So of course we complain;  we feel frustrated and we don't know what else to do. Thubten Chodron suggests that another reason we complain is because we want someone to recognize our suffering and perhaps help us feel better.  Unfortunately, we can't alleviate our suffering by airing grievances or attempting to control or fix the world as we'd like it to be, because the suffering is a delusion.  It is an obscuration that prevents us from seeing reality of our situation; that our suffering lies inside of ourselves and not outside of ourselves. 
On Saturday, I was lucky enough to attend a teaching by Anan Thubten, an excellent Nyingma teacher based in California.  He spoke a great deal about truly seeing reality and loving it; its suffering, its impermance, as well as its joy and beauty.  In his book, No Self No Problem, he writes:

One time I was invited to a party. There were a few people drinking champagne and soaking in a hot tub and, while they were in these very nice circumstances, they were complaining about their lives. They were complaining at that same exact  moment they were drinking champagne and soaking in a hot tub and right after they had finished eating a very nice dinner. You see that this is contradictory. In some sense this is a little out of balance. These people had everything. They were having a fantastic time in terms of enjoying worldly pleasures and at the same time they were creating an imaginary experience of suffering and conflict. What they were complaining about doesn’t really exist. If you looked for a reason to suffer, you could not find it anywhere in the proximity of their current situation.  

So how do we stop looking for reasons to complain?  A good way to start could be to relax and have a sense of humor, as Ponlop Rinpoche suggested at during his recent NYC teaching.   This can help us take ourselves a bit less seriously and put our gripes into perspective (does it really matter if the man in front of me is walking slowly?).   Another way out is to develop a sense of gratitude and generosity.  If we truly appreciated the extraordinary life we have, we'd never complain - in fact, we'd be so overcome with gratitude we'd give spontaneously out of sheer joy!

Like many, I was very touched by the story of Michael Oher, the homeless teenager (and later, professional football player) adopted by his classmates' family.  I wondered what made that family special, and how they became so generous and loving .  Perhaps a clue can be found in this quote from the father of the family, Sean Tuohy.   A self-made, successful, and wealthy businessman, he said: “I don’t hang with the blues. I’d rather go to a high-school football game on Friday night than go to a country club and drink four Scotches and complain about my wife.”

Are there problems in the world?  Yes.  Does complaining about a problem solve it?  No.  There are programs available to help break bad habits like drinkingsmoking, and even shopping.  Perhaps we need one to help us quit complaining.  As Shantideva said, "If something can be changed, work to change it. If it cannot, why worry, be upset, and complain?" 





Peace to Everyone Everywhere!

Vote for this article to appear in the Recommended list.


Yes, except...

... that these "programs" available to break such habits are largely there so that people can complain in a clinical setting. Complaining is a part of social catharsis, and as long as it isn't drawn out to the point of indulgence, there's no use telling people to "quit."



Great article

the difficulty in my humble opinion lies in finding a place to extrapolate motivation and willpower to of course ultimately change ourselves to process the world in a better or at the very least, different way.


Is it truly that simple?

I deleted what I wrote here, because I don't know what the point of offering a critique is, and if it is useful.

So, I'm just going to offer a question:  does Buddhism seem to offer ways to pathologize others and ourselves?

Bring back your comments!

Robert, I thought your earlier post was really interesting and was thinking about it this afternoon. Please repost, I appreciate your thoughtfulness!

The Heart of It...

The heart of my comment was a critique of Thubten's story.  It seems to condradict the heart of many teachings.  Chogyam Trungpa talks about listening to a conversation in an open way, not necessarily to the words.  He and others would never emphasize that money, good food, or hot tubs lead to a cessation of suffering.  While the people in the hot tub may not have been accurately pinpointing the causes of their suffering, we cannot just look at the people in his story in a aggressive way.  It is too easy to see someone walking down the street with bags and bags of clothing from very expensive stores and to say, "Why are they complaining about carrying all those bags when they can afford all those clothes!?"  Their luxury does not buy them truth, nor would sitting in a hot tub, or eating a hot meal.  Complaining might take on an aspect of ungratefulness, but behind the words or the energy expressed is some kind of suffering, and though we may choose our words more wisely, if we pathologize 'complaining' we pathologize those who complain, and lose the moment to allow what is to pass through us.

A lot of meditation teachers seem to use humor to make their point, but often abuse the biases that people contain to do it.  Next time you are in a class, notice how many times a teacher says something like Thubten's story, and ask why, to make a point, there must be a fall guy.

Glad You Reposted !

Robert,  I think you're right about that excerpt making a somewhat agressive point about complainers, though the fault is mine and not Anam Thubten's; the full post of his chapter can be found at this link http://www.dailyom.com/library/000/002/000002110.html.  He's a very wise teacher and certainly wouldn't suggest that material goods could end suffering. 

I, however, am not quite so skillful!  It's easy to mock complaining prosperous people just to make a point, and I'll be more careful in the future to be less glib.

Thanks so much for your comment!

Great Topic!

Keep writing.

Daily Connect: Quit Complaining

Another thought provoking post by KimB.

Site developed by the IDP and Genalo Designs.