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Jun 14, 2017

In the course of vocalizing frustrations, it's okay to vent... but complaining without any desire to find a solution can become tiring to everyone around us. In this mid-week espresso shot, let's talk about complaining.


Complaining about a problem without proposing a solution is called whining.

Many people attribute this quote to the late President Theodore Roosevelt. I've never been able to find much evidence of this, but it is very much in line with his p olitics and general philosophy. On April 23, 1910, President Roosevelt gave a speech in Paris, which has since been titled Citizenship in a Republic. It is one of my favorite speeches (alongside Lincoln's Gettysburg Address and Winston Churchill's Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat), because within it we hear these powerful words:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

The two quotes may seem unrelated, but I think there is an underlying component to them that is entirely intrinsic to the discussion about complaining and the call to find solutions. Complaining about a problem, even something we can genuinely characterize as altruistic (i.e. venting), is an expression that bears a negative connotation. It puts us in a state of being dissatisfied and discontent, a state of grievance, in which another entity has more control over the situation than we do and we are at its (or their) mercy.

If portion sizes are small at a restaurant, we complain... because we ordered a meal, built up expectations, and then were disappointed that those expectations (or needs of hunger) were not met. It is by choice that we put ourselves at other people's mercy, either to satisfy our own needs or to hand off jobs we are incapable of doing ourselves, while still maintaining an element of expectancy over the work needing to be done. We are both incapable and opinionated.

The great eye-opening essence of Roosevelt's speech is a reminder that as a free people, as each possessing individual citizenship within a democratic republic, it is our duty to not let our systems evolve from refinement into fastidiousness. Basically, I interpret this to mean that there is something to be said for developing refined systems, ones that run efficiently and in the best interest of all who work for that system's common good; but when the details become more important than the missional objective, we've lost sight of who is actually doing the work.

Complaining is an effect of something deeper than a momentary problem. It is a culmination of frustration that should have been tackled earlier. My personal objective in life is to vocalize disagreements when they arise in a way that encourages discussion about an approach to a problem instead of letting those disagreements build up and, over time, develop into complaints about the way things are being run. I don't want to be a whiner, and I don't want to constantly be the voice of dissent, but I am not doing myself any good, nor those around me, by letting my disagreements fester and, perhaps, spread to others.