The art of complaining

Complaining means that we know what's wrong, but we:

  1. don’t realize we can change it. (We believe we're powerless.)

  2. are too lazy to change it. (We'd rather just complain.)

As a friend, I hate this. Because it’s a lot of work to make complainers realize they can change things. They always push back with all the reasons they can’t, which just reinforces the two points above.

As a colleague, I love this. Because I know I’m powerful and can change anything. Because every complaint is an opportunity. It’s fun to invent solutions to problems, turn ideas to reality, and watch my creations make the world a little better.Then afterward, on a personal note, I can say, “See? Told you it could change.”

No, it's me...not you.

I have a bitchy resting face. That is, when I am thinking or reflecting on something, my face looks angry. I don’t really ever get mad, but I do experience frustration, which can look a lot like being angry.

But, if I’m really honest, there were a few years before #MeToo brought everything to the foreground, where I was very angry.  I spent a few years being really mad at my former colleagues.

They corrupted the culture of the group. They resisted change they themselves said they supported. They focused on their own gains instead of collaborating.

They this. They that. Does this pattern sound familiar?

When someone upsets you, it’s human nature to feel it’s entirely their fault.

But at some point, I flipped a bit and I started thinking maybe it was all my fault.  Yes, really, even in an environment that mercilessly punishes those at fault.

  • I created the environment that let the rotten apples spoil the barrel.

  • I ignored problems instead of nipping them in the bud.

  • I was aloof and away instead of managing or developing others.

  • (I could list many more examples, but you get the idea.)

It was a little bit liberating to decide it was all my fault!

This is way more effective than forgiving. When you forgive, you’re still assuming everyone one else is wrong and you’re the victim. You’re just charitably pardoning their horrible deeds.

But to decide it’s your fault kept me in the driver’s seat! Now, it’s not that I was wronged. They were just playing their part in the situation I created. They’re just delivering the punch-line to the joke I had set up. In the end, human interaction comes down to algebra: what is done on one side, impacts the other.

What power! Now you’re like a new super-hero, just discovering your strength. Now you’re the powerful person that made things happen, made a mistake, and can learn from it. Now you’re in control and there’s nothing to complain about.

This philosophy feels so empowering that I apply the “EVERYTHING IS MY FAULT” filter before reacting.

It’s one of those base rules like “people mean well” that’s more fun to believe, and have a few exceptions, than to not believe at all.

  • The artist that stole $750 from me? My fault. I should have taken the art that day, rather than do him the favor of leaving the piece hanging as part of the exhibit. (To this day, I think he sold that piece twice).

  • I didn’t find my dream job after graduate school? My fault. My dream was much too broad.

  • Don’t like my government? My fault. I could get involved and change it.

See what power it is?

Yes, it is all about personal responsibility but to me that’s such a somber concept. It’s the vegetables no one wants to eat. The lesson no one wants to hear. Whereas “everything’s my fault” is a fun rule-of-thumb.

Try it. Move some of those bricks to the other side.

Think of every bad thing that happened to you, and imagine youhappened to it.

Kinda blows your mind, doesn’t it?

That power looks good on you.

Artist  Jason Ratliff’s series “Super Shadows”  shows popular superheroes in kids’ shadows.

Artist Jason Ratliff’s series “Super Shadows” shows popular superheroes in kids’ shadows.