I’m sick of writing this column.
I’m sick of having to come up with an idea every single week of my life. I’m sick of having it always hanging over my head like some Sword of Damocles. I’m sick of groping for the right verb. Sick of proofreading. And proofreading again.
And that’s not all.
I’m sick of cutting grass. And this is only because it’s May. A couple of months ago I was sick of shoveling snow. In a few more I’ll be sick of raking leaves.
Know what else? I’m sick of taking out the garbage. Wednesday morning sure does roll around fast. So does the next morning when I have to put out my recycling. I’m sick of that, too.
I’m also sick of shaving my face, and getting to the gym, and trying to diet off my fat belly, and seeing my bald head in the mirror, and answering emails, and paying bills, and dealing with terrible drivers, and looking for a parking space, and flossing my teeth, and talking to robots on my phone, and explaining yet another time why I don’t watch Game of Thrones.
I could go on, but I won’t. Know why? Because none of what I just wrote is true. I don’t mean any of these things. I just wanted to see what it’s like to complain. I’ve found I don’t like it.
I’m simply not a complainer. And I haven’t been for some 40 years. Not since a young man knocked the complainer right out of me. And he did it with three little words.
I’m guessing it was somewhere in the late ’70s. I was managing editor of the local newspaper and up to my ears in work. Jimmy O’Donnell, just a kid at the time, perhaps not even out of his teens, worked in the pressroom under his taskmaster father, James “Spot” O’Donnell. It was mid-summer and there was no air conditioning in that pressroom. Several times a day, Jimmy would walk into the composing room with his sweaty work shirt stuck to his torso and drape himself over the window air conditioning unit for a few precious minutes of relief.
One time, he made the mistake of asking me how I was doing, and when he did, I launched into a litany similar to the one at the beginning of this column. There were too many staff members on vacation, no one was meeting their deadlines, advertising composition was backing up, where did all our photographers get to, I didn’t even get lunch, if I got one more phone call I’d scream, and forget making my early evening tennis match.
Jimmy just let me go. “Ed,” he said calmly, when he was sure I was finished, “you’re complaining.”
Back he went to the sweltering pressroom. And there I stood, more embarrassed than I had ever been in my life. I vowed right then and there to never complain again.
I’m writing about this today because I recently became aware of the “Complaint Cleanse.” It’s a movement encouraging us to take a week, or even a few days, and commit to not complaining. Those proposing it are the first to admit it’s not easy. The average person, I read, complains from 15 to 30 times a day. And not only that, but complaining spawns more complaining. It’s contagious. Entire conversations can be reduced to nothing but complaint one-upmanship. It can be exhausting.
“Complaining is something that seems to come so easy and so natural to us,” poet Cleo Wade writes, “but the problem is this: complaints have no magic. They don’t make anyone’s day better and they don’t help any situation.”
Wade is one of the proponents of going on a Complaint Cleanse. Take a week, she suggests, and “monitor when complains pop into your mind, and instead of saying them out loud, let them go. When we do this, we allow for our language to be part of how we make the world more magical and more peaceful.”
Will Bowen, author of “A Complaint Free World: How to Stop Complaining and Start Enjoying the Life You Always Wanted,” proposes not just a week, but a 21-day cleanse. He says to start by putting a bracelet on one wrist as a reminder to not complain. If you hear a complaint come out of your mouth, you have to switch the bracelet to the other wrist and start all over again.
The goal is to begin to realize how petty most of our complaints actually are, and to begin to see the world in a positive rather than negative light.
It’s reminiscent of the old Chinese proverb, “It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.”
For the record, I don’t need to wear a bracelet to remind me not to complain. My “bracelet” is those three words from Jimmy O’Donnell.
Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week. Look for his blogs online during the week at pittstonprogress.com.