Sunday, May 29, 2005

Complaining about Complaining

One of my spiritual disciplines is to try to refrain from complaining. But as soon as I say this out loud, and try to give a rationale for why I adopt this as a spiritual discipline, I realize that I veer dangerously close to complaining myself -- about complaining! Ok, I'll admit, I don't merely "veer dangerously close" -- I fall wholly into actually complaining.

So, I'm just going to let myself do that for a little bit here, but then I'll try to bring it back to something more positive at the end.

The reason this comes up now is that I've been making a serious effort to learn more about blog-world, and to find some blogs to list along the side of this one like I've seen other people do. (First I have to figure out how to do this, because I do have some candidates I'd like to list! But this is getting off topic...) As I've learned strategies for trying to find kindred-spirit blogs, I've been looking at a lot of blogs along the way. And I find that there are many blogs that include a lot of complaining. For example, I like Quaker blogs, and I like blogs about the academic world. (There are others I like too, but these two lend themselves best to my next comment.) But people can spend a lot of time in these blogs complaining about the current state of Quakerism, or Academia, respectively. And, while I'm generally sympathetic with the concerns that are expressed, I end up feeling left with a sense of hopelessness and despair. Sometimes I also feel yelled at, even if I'm not actually guilty of the problems these writers complain about.

For those who write in some sort of public way: don't we have a responsibility, in our writing, to move beyond our "I'm upset about this" reactions? If we need to write into and through our dismay first, in order to get to more positive solutions and suggestions, then shouldn't we go back and edit out most of the dismay before posting or publishing our writing?

Challenging words, perhaps, in our current culture that generally permits, even encourages, complaint and critique! And perhaps I haven't been perfect about this myself.

But I'd like to ask (both as a reminder to myself, and to others who may read this): what writings do you most like to read, and why?

Here are some of my answers (this is the "moving towards the positive" part that I promised above!):

  • I like writings that are deeply rooted in well-reflected-upon personal experience. The personal experience can be positive or negative; the reflection part translates that experience into helpful insight.
  • I like honest statements about people's current burning questions, struggles, problems -- statements that move beyond complaint and contain hints of why these questions, struggles, problems matter, and how it is that addressing them will actually make things better, and even point to what that "better" looks like!
  • I like many forms of humor, especially humor about the ironies of life.
  • I like writing that shows compassion and understanding towards others, and towards oneself.
  • I like writing that helps deepen the reader's understanding about the world and about human nature.
  • I like writing that does not insult the reader. I like writing that seems to regard the reader as a trusted, intimate, and honored friend.
As we become more aware of what we like to read, then I believe that we also have a responsibility to be aware enough about our writing to hold it to the same standards.

One final thought: complaining is easy to do. Working to bring about real and lasting change is very hard. Our culture gives us lots of models for how to keep complaining; furthermore, complaining is habit-forming. (Complaining may also keep us complacent.) It is much harder to find good models for how to bring about change. And working for change requires focus, self-awareness, intentionality, and discipline. It also requires patience. Most of all, it requires deep insight into human nature, and the desire to work compassionately with human nature, not against it. When you are working for change, you will meet resistance. If you fight against that resistance by berating people for resisting your excellent ideas, you will lose. When you begin to learn what resistance really is, and accept that everyone (yourself included) does this, then and only then will you begin to learn how to become an effective agent for change.


  1. Oooh, lots of good things to comment on in this post. Excellent questions!

    First, I'll empathize with you and say it's taken me a while to figure out how to set up a sidebar with links to other blogs and websites.

    Each template on Blogger is different, but I'd suggest you look at your template on the Blogger dashboard. Look for words in the template that say "sidebar" and items that reflect the list "Recent posts." Playing with and duplicating that format within the template might point you in the direction you're looking for. (Be sure you use the preview button before saving any changes to the template!)

    Second, I hope you won't judge all Quakers by the blogs you encounter. Among the handful of Quaker blogs that I look at, we each seem to come to blogging from a different perspective.

    For myself, I blog because I feel I have a "voice" that is different from other Quaker blogs--a more personal, experience-based one. But I would fathom a guess that other Quakers blog because of the frustration they are having among Friends who perhaps have a different theology than they do; and still others blog because they are so excited about having come across Quakerism that they want a space to put it all down without thinking.

    And I suspect other Quakers have started a blog because they feel an inward call to do so, as if being led by the Spirit.

    Quakers are already such a small population in the U.S. and Canada, let alone the world. I'm thrilled there is a way to connect with more of us via the internet now, and blogs are a huge part of that connection and sharing of new ideas.

    Okay, no more advocacy talk about Quaker blogs...

    The questions you raise for all bloggers are things I've taken into consideration myself:

    For those who write in some sort of public way: don't we have a responsibility, in our writing, to move beyond our "I'm upset about this" reactions? If we need to write into and through our dismay first, in order to get to more positive solutions and suggestions, then shouldn't we go back and edit out most of the dismay before posting or publishing our writing?

    Whose to say why any of us start a blog? Maybe we don't know or understand the real reach of these devices.

    ...I'd like to believe that bloggers actually take a fair amount of time creating and editing drafts before hitting the "send" button. And in our humanness, maybe we need to be raw and open and miserable on our blogs, hoping that a reader will shed a little Light on the subject to help us find our way out of whatever tunnel we've gotten ourselves into.

    And if I don't care for a certain tone or repeated topic on a blog, it's usually easy enough for me to stop reading it. I tend to keep up with the blogs that my favorite bloggers link to. And then other blogs, like yours, come along through a bit of searching and surfing, and I add it to my growing list of bookmarks.

    Let me step back, though, and acknowledge that it sounds like you personally take extra time to reflect on what you've written before you actually post it. And it sounds like you value that sort of care, especially among other bloggers. I do too, on both counts.

    On the other hand, I've learned long ago and many times over not to impose my wants over someone else's; and what works for me may not work for somebody else. I guess acceptance is a part of my regular spiritual discipline. Sometimes I fall wayyy short, though.

    Thanks for writing and for asking the challenging questions. As a fellow blogger and a reader of blogs, I appreciate it.

    Liz, The Good Raised Up

  2. Thank you so much for these comments! I did feel a little bad for being a bit negative myself in this posting -- I was having a bit of a weary day. But I do realize that one cannot "complain about complaining" without validating complaining to some extent, and actually, that's why I just let this be (instead of deleting it). In general, I do myself also keep trying to practice a spiritual discipline of accepting where others are.

    But sometimes, especially when others around me seem unrelentingly negative, and I'm trying to forge a positive path to a better future, I just get lonely and want some help. That was how I was feeling that day.

    On a more positive note -- I continued my blog exploration and since then have come across more and more blogs, especially Quaker ones, that I have found very moving and helpful -- such as yours! So, thank you! And I revisited the ones I had encountered this day, and read them more deeply, and do indeed appreciate the concerns those Friends were expressing. So, thanks to all of you!

    I too am very excited about this mode of communicating and connecting!