If You Don't Have Anything Nice to Say...1:17 AM
It drove me nuts when people did this and I couldn't stand it when they did that and I hate consumer math and the lessons make absolutely no sense and I didn't get any sleep last night and I'm always tired and I don't want to work on my scholarship thingie and I always forget to do laundry and I'm sick of feeling busy and I just want to go to bed but I can't and this hot chocolate tastes really bad.
I said that and a few more paragraphs of complaint until I stopped cold. The blessedly obvious halted my torrents: did I realize how negative I was? Horrible, terrible, horrendous, awful, bad, didn't, not, don't, can't, hate -- they infiltrated my vocabulary. When faced with the prospect of caroling in the cold, I complained about door to door things inevitably go wrong and it would be so cold. (Everybody said it was cold. The running joke and the reality was to say over and over again, "It's freezing!" Duh.) When doing school, I groaned about how I stink at calculating the percent Jane saved in coupons. When talking to my friends, we gripe about school and family and how horrible we feel. And don't get me started on how energetically I can speak about illness. If you're not interested in the details of my sore throat, by golly, you will be.
Nobody likes listening to complaining, but it appears everybody likes the act of complaining itself. Criticizing. Bursting someone's bubble.
It bugged me how obsessed with the mess-ups and boo-boos we are. It drove me crazy (and here I justly complain) how people would point out how badly I'd played the piano after there was nothing I could do about it or how horrible my outfit was two weeks after I'd worn it to church. I couldn't change the past. There wasn't anything edifying or helpful in pointing out that I hit the wrong note or that shapeless shirts don't look good, even in pink. Why bring it up?
It annoyed me how I itched to cut someone down -- either in fun or in earnest. When someone said something stupid, I'd jump to correct them. People always criticized me for criticizing their grammar constantly. It's no fun to be a critical person.
I stop and think. How many criticisms does it take to become a critical person? For we actually become defined by the things we talk about. I know people solely as that grumpy guy or the girl who complains about everything or the one who cuts me down or the one who never admits to being wrong. Our negativity defines us.
Our jokes are negative. Our talk about friends and family is negative. Our complaints about trials and problems are negative. Our talk radio and politics and essays are negative. Bailey negatively writes about negativity.
Obviously we cannot escape negativity altogether. Some things are genuinely negative. Things stink. People fail. That does not console my embarrassment and remorse at how vocal (and frequently so) I am about life's aches and pains. And that does not interest me in reading, listening to or caring about the nonstop negativity coming from others -- unless, of course, it gives me a platform to air my own woes.
What amuses me the most is how clever people (I?) think they are when they complain. I find great joy in pointing out grammatical oopsies and the philosophical faux pas. I always seem intelligent when delving deeper into how and why something bothers me. I feel self-important in dissecting, blow by blow, my complaints, especially when an audience is involved. A genuine joke or a pleasant feeling passes in a second -- it's the complaints that get the encore. (My sisters and I love growling over the nasty and/or absurd comments we get. Especially the ones from two years ago. Always.)
Really, there's nothing clever at all in find something terrible, hurtful or annoying about this broken world. From infancy we train ourselves to survive by the art of complaint, to buoy our depression with sarcasm, and anything else that strikes our ears sounds incredibly strange. I think it takes more observation and more sensitivity to talk about the good things -- to praise, to wonder, to appreciate. Much more. So much more that if we followed that wet blanket adage, "If you don't have anything to say, don't say it at all," we'd not have much to say.
Don't believe me? Try it. Keep score of how many complaints you and your family make in a fifteen minute period -- from the flippant to the serious. It'll have you scuttling to write a thousand encouraging notes. At the very least, it'll get you complaining.