I was taking a walk recently. It was a beautiful Fall day in the Catskill Mountains of New York. We were surrounded by red and orange and yellow and green. We could see gorgeous leaves and rock in the far off distance, from a rock ledge. We could see nature’s treasures at our feet. I told her I thought that she thought about her health problems too much. She got pissed.
We had a good conversation. You know the kind where the surroundings disappear. She kept asserting that her complaints were very important ones. I kept complaining about her complaining. We laughed a great deal. We cried a little.We chose to agree to disagree about the value of complaining.
At some point in the conversation, she told me that I didn’t get complaining because I was a guy. She told me that women knew better how to bond around sharing misery and that many men didn’t know how to do this, or at least how to do it well. She said that I was one of these men.
I started to challenge her notion that I was not like the average man. After all, I was a frequent visitor of the goodmenproject.com website. I suggested that right there made me probably better than average at being able to sensitively complain. I thought better of that approach.
I decided to go with the argument that I had great respect for complaining because I had made my living off it, as a professional social worker who used to get paid for respectfully listening to others piss and moan.
Common counseling practice is to listen to a client’s take on how they are getting a raw deal out of life, without judging them. This non-judgmental attitude allows for the development of a therapeutic bond between counselor and client. Once such a relationship is developed, the counselor can then tell the client to get over themselves already and how to do it.
This takes time. The good news is that you can get paid for it. I always worked for salary, so I never made money off keeping someone coming to talk to me, by encouraging their complaining. I always tried to get around to encouraging clients to do something to improve their situation.
Since our visit together was going to be brief, I explained I was just trying to skip the non-judgmental part to save time and get right into the “get over yourself” part, then quickly go on to the “here is what you need to do” part. I was clear that I wasn’t going to charge for any of it.
My hiking companion let it be known that this was not the journey she wanted to be on that day. Rather, she preferred to help me to understand the value of expressing one’s hurts, pains and fears and how to not contaminate the purity of the process by interjecting any thoughts on how to fix things.
The conversation was heading toward one of those, “men are forever looking to fix things before the woman believes he knows the nature of the fix she is in and how she feels about it” conversations. I didn’t want that.
She had been going on and on about her multiple attempts to seek multiple practitioners to address her multitude of serious woes. I told her to just stop. She complained that she already had too many people in her life, like me, that couldn’t be bothered to take the time to hear all about her concerns.
I told her that it could be that many people cared a great deal and did listen to her concerns for a long time. It could be that her problem was that many people tended to not find her problems as interesting as they did their own, and so this put limits on their listening. She didn’t like listening to that. Men telling women how to think act and feel is not as popular as it once was.
As to the question, who complains more, men or women? I just used that title for click bait. I don’t really care. I do believe that women have traditionally complained to each other more than men have complained to each other, for good reason. The good reason is a bad reason. As the largest of oppressed groups, women, have had a good deal to complain about. Much of their complaining has been about their treatment by men and barriers that men have raised to try and prevent women from doing anything much about their complaints.
Elections in the USA used to be rigged against women, less than a hundred years ago. This was cleverly done by doing nothing to make it legal for women to vote. The Russians had nothing to do with this. Now that women can not only vote, but they can also be the nominee for President Of The United States, the oppression of women is starting to become old news. It shouldn’t be.
Women are still kept out of all sorts of places by fear of sexual assault. Any man, might do it at any time, at any place, using all sorts of distractions to get away with it. Law enforcement systems are still rigged against women getting justice and rigged against getting rapists off the streets, out of parks, and away from the insides of buildings and houses. Women are almost always close to harms way when it comes to sexual assault. Way too much of most women’s mental activity is devoted to being on guard for predictors of sexual assault, around the clock.
Most men worry about this not at all when it comes to them. They do worry about their daughters, sisters, mothers, and partners some. This is not to say that the way-too-many men, who have been sexually assaulted, don’t spend time worrying that it could happen again. Please remember that what is good about removing the rigging against women in the courts, is that it will not just help women. It will help men and children as well.
As we look back on the oppression of women, we should take joy in the progress made, because that reminds us that more progress, much more progress is possible. It reminds us how good progress can feel. Progress can shine a brighter light on how bad things are. It is awful that what we can now see about the protection of people from sexual assault is worse than what we thought. Getting it out in the open is good.
Now, if you are a “news that you can use” type and have read this far or skipped ahead to this part, I did not forget about you.
If you have someone in your social network, who is known for keeping people updated on their complaints, you are in good company. If you limit their time savoring their complaints with you by sharing your complaints, you might want to take a look at that.
If you follow weather forecasts so you can better complain about how it is going to be too hot or too cold or too wet or too dry, think about the amount of time you spend there. If a hurricane, tornado, or flood waters might be headed your way, pay attention to that and be prepared to do what you might need to do, but that can take much less time than complaining about the weather.
This can go for complaining about who is running for president, how much tickets to see the Chicago Cubs play in the World Series cost, that there is nothing decent to watch on television, or that you are sick and tired about what is popular to post on Facebook. (Practical tip: check out what is being shared on The Good Men Project Facebook page. Don’t complain if you don’t like what you see there. Just go to goodmenproject.com to find more than you can find on the Facebook page). If you are spending time complaining about that which you really don’t plan on actually doing much about, try stopping that for a while. See how you feel. If it feels weird at first that’s good because yu are making a significant change, which may feel great if you keep at it.
You may find yourself having less of a craving for news about your favorite complaints.You can’t say, “Look, they did it again,” as much. You might come to like not missing that.
Don’t be shocked when your less complaining leads to better awareness of opportunities to act. This happens quite a bit. You might think that it is the other way around, when it is not. When these opportunities come, you will have more energy to act on them. Energy saved from complaining less.
If many of your complaints are about not feeling free to speak freely due to being in a oppressed class, leave those alone. Do take a look at your complaining about the weather and other equal opportunity forms of oppression.
Complaining as a way of social bonding with little hope of working collectively to address the things being complained about, isn’t completely bad. You may find that you can do better, though.
The traditional male virtue of not wanting to talk about something that nobody has any intention of talking, or doing anything about, can be quite helpful in redirecting some energy-sapping, feel-good-for-just-talking, conversations. (If you have any complaints about my run on sentence structures or use of the passive voice please address these to goodmenproject.com editorial staff).
Many women and men are starting to complain about people who like to complain about how they have been victimized because they are a member of some oppressed class. Many men and women are complaining more about people who feel good about their knowledge of who is who amongst oppressed classes and their understanding as to who is doing the oppression and how they should just stop it and don’t talk much about what they are doing about oppression. Some of these people are just being humble. Many don’t have much in the doing department to talk abut.
Partial disclosure, I am a white male. I don’t want to take all of the blame and be directed by victims as to how white men should clean up their messes. I also complain about my finances, my health, my age and yes, the weather. I would tell you more about what I complain about, but my memory isn’t as good as it once was. This is one of my biggest complaints.
I do remember that I complain about people who complain too much. When I do, I often get the sense that the person I am talking to is not so much listening as they are waiting for their turn to complain. I can do better than this. Maybe you can, too.
Fall colors aren’t as vibrant here as they have been in past years and we sure could use some rain, but as I turn my head to the left and look out the window, even with all its short comings and mysteries, I notice there is still a beautiful world out there.
Photo credit: Getty Images