I just saw Stephen M (Ethesis)’s post on complaints about EFY and I liked his list of reasons people complain (particularly about church stuff). For those of you who aren’t clicking the link to his article, here’s the quick summary of his list:
- Legitimate — Complaining about a demonstrable problem with a demonstrable solution.
- Compulsive mental illness — What it sounds like.
- Compulsive snarkers — “People who are just constant nitpickers…”
- Thematic — “People who have adopted a cause, and thereafter have a stream of advice and complaints that circle around that as a theme…”
- People in pain — “Some people complain out of their pain, which is often rubbed wrong by many things.”
- People looking for an excuse to analyze and talk about something — What it sounds like.
- Bullies, who are using a complaint as an excuse to try and push people around.
I’m fine with complaining as long as it serves a purpose (see #1 above). When I started a new college program a couple years ago, one of the Orientation Day activities was a personality test. The test determined that I am a “reformer”. I don’t mind that label. When I see institutional problems, I want to do what I can to correct them. The church parlance term for “reformer” is “ark steadier”. That one’s not quite so flattering.
Of course, everyone who complains feels that their complaints fall under the “1. Legitimate” category. If I’m honest with myself, I’d probably have to add #4 (I’ve got my hot-button topics), #5 (sometimes the status quo just isn’t working for me), and #6 (I really do enjoy a good discussion) to my list of reasons.
One thing I’ve discovered about myself is that I like to focus on one thing at a time. I can’t stand having a conversation while I’m watching a show. I’m happy to turn off the TV and talk, but I just don’t get the point of catching just enough of the show to not understand the plot and catching just enough of the discussion to not understand the point. Same goes for reading books, cleaning the house, exercising, playing with my kids, etc. I’m happy to do any of those (preferably in blocks of at least a couple hours each), but don’t make me switch between them.
So maybe part of my complaining comes from focusing too much on one issue at a time. Kind of a combination of #2 and #4. Speaking of which, I’m writing this post now because I have another post complaining about things, but it’s taking me too long to put it together, so you get this instead today.
One thing I don’t get is the concern about complaining when it comes to the church. A problem is a problem, whether in the church or out of the church, and the solution to problems isn’t “wait quietly until they go away.” One of the great principles of the gospel is work, and [effective] complaining is a form of work. I think that’s in the Bible Dictionary. Or maybe it was prayer. But that’s the story of the unjust judge. The line between prayers and complaints is pretty blurry.
I hope, though, that all complaints are accompanied by respect. The people on the receiving end of the complaints are generally good people, doing their best to make things work. It’s not like they said, “Hmm…I can implement this system the good way or the bad way. Let’s do it the bad way!” (Incidentally, that’s my complaint about demands for education reform, as though it were a simple thing to do. Do people expect the principals to suddenly say, “Oh, you mean you want me to stop doing things the ineffective way? Okay, I thought you had wanted the system to be bumbling along.” If they knew a more effective way, my guess is that they’d already be doing it. Which isn’t to say that there aren’t more effective ways, only that implementing them is non-trivial.) They’ve got a lot of other stuff to worry about too.