Complaining reveals priorities. What someone complains about shows pretty quickly what is important to them. The reason we tend to have a negative view of complaints is that most people value themselves above everything else and their complaints reveal that. Everything they complain about is very self centered and is all about how something affects them.
“I didn’t like…” “You never…” “I can’t believe…”
Because 90 percent of all complaints tend to be self centered we have a tendency to think that complaining is never OK. I’m going to disagree and say that there are times when complaining is OK.
- It is OK to complain when the person you are complaining to has the power to do something about it. If the person you are complaining to can’t do anything about the situation, then you aren’t really making anything better. Instead you are probably just causing more problems. This is really just gossip, even if we call it something else. We can call it sharing a concern, sharing our thoughts, etc. But unless that person can do something about it, it’s a form of gossip.
- It is OK to complain when the issue isn’t about you but about values and justice. For example, if someone complains to me that this past Sunday, they invited a friend to church and no one said hi to them and no one greeted them, then that is a very good complaint. I want to hear about that. Because it means that somewhere we had a breakdown. We value people and want to make sure they feel welcome. If that isn’t happening I want to know about it. If we’ve made a commitment to something and that’s not happening, then it is totally OK to complain. An example in a family situation is that I’ve made a commitment to spend time with my wife and prioritize our relationship. If I’m not doing that because I’m constantly busy doing other things, then she has every right to complain to me about that. A value is being ignored and pretending there isn’t a problem would be a mistake.
- It’s OK to complain when you are willing to be part of making the situation better. Someone who notices something that isn’t right and is willing to be a part of making right, is someone I want to be around. Some people are great at pointing out what’s wrong with the world, but don’t do anything to make it better. They are more than happy to tell you everything that isn’t working, but don’t have a single idea about what to do to change or fix it. Not the kind of people I want to spend time around. Others see an issue, and want to get busy changing it. The world needs more of these kind of people.