It might not be official church teaching, but the admonishment against complainers got as close as it’s possible to get when Pope Francis recently posted this notice on his residential door.
Translated from Italian the notice reads:
“You are forbidden to complain.
Violators are subject to a victim mentality that decreases one’s sense of humour and ability to solve problems.
The penalty is doubled if the violation takes place in the presence of children.
To get the best out of yourself, concentrate on your potential and not on your limitations.”
The notice was given to Pope Francis by Italian psychologist, author and motivational speaker Salvo Noe. Photographs on the author’s Facebook page show the Pope reading it and laughing heartily – clearly it struck a chord with him!
To be sure, complainers make poor company. Who needs to be reminded how degenerate the culture is, or how unfair the system is, or how hopeless the outlook is, or worse, how inadequate we are?
We all prefer to be around optimistic people. People who can laugh at their misadventures and be carefree in exposing their imperfections. We feel more accepted and more acceptable around such people than we do with those whose presence can be like a cloud of shame and pessimism.
Chronic complainers often defend their habit of complaint by pointing out that improvement can’t happen if we don’t know what is wrong. “How will he know what to change if I don’t tell him?” “How will she improve if I don’t point out what she’s doing wrong?”
While it can be helpful to recognise and name the things that need changing, there’s a world of difference between using this as an excuse for blame (victim mentality) and using it as the springboard for action.
The problem is not the observation of what’s wrong, it’s the attitude of defeatism and the abdication of all responsibility to the other.
One of the strategies we use in our marriage to counter the victim mentality is what we call a Respectful Request. We both know that we can disappoint the other all too often. Complaining and criticising might promise relief to the offended party but in truth, neither of us feels good after giving or receiving criticism.
The Respectful Request, on the other hand, focusses on what we want and need, rather than on the deficits in the other. So instead of complaining: “why are you working so hard?”, we might request: “I really need more time with you, can we set aside a few hours this week to talk and reconnect?”
One approach implies judgement and blames the other for the situation. The other approach owns the emotional needs and provides a concrete, achievable way for the other to respond.
The first is more likely to elicit a defensive reaction that starts an argument. The second is more likely to get the desired change. Happy days!
Some people resist this strategy declaring it be out of touch with reality. The truth is, things are never that bleak.
The Respectful Request is about being realistic about the frustrating or hurtful situation and our capacity to respond proactively to it.
So before you launch your ‘blame thrower’ in a barrage of complaints against your spouse (or child, friend, boss etc), step back. Own your emotional needs and devise a concrete and achievable way for the other to meet it.
Now you’ve got a conversation worth having rather than a whinger’s monologue.