“I can’t complain,” one of my friends responded when asked how she was doing. That was okay – pretty much of a standard response to the question. But she went on to say, “No one wants to listen to a complainer, and it could always be worse.”
That struck a nerve with me. To begin with, yes, things could always get worse. We are often met with a barrage of quotes designed to make us feel bad about complaining. They might begin with the words of the famous Persian poet Sa’di, who wrote, “I complained because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.” Then we’ll be reminded of all the people who are worse off than us.
Sometimes it does help put things into perspective. I remember one quarter, I had asked my students to write about an experience from which they had learned a valuable lesson. When I was grading the papers, I read one written by a young man who said that he had learned “parents are not always fair” because his parents had taken his video games away when he didn’t make it home by curfew. “It wasn’t even my fault,” he wrote. “We were in my friend’s car, and he refused to take me home!”
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