Saturday, March 28, 2009

Revoking Complaining Privileges

My mom is a drug pusher. And I don't mean that in a bad way. I just mean that if I ever had a headache the first words out of her mouth were "Did you take something?" If the answer was no, she sent me off to dig through the medicine cabinet and sling back a couple of Tylenol. No complaining was allowed when it was within my power to fix my own problem. Now, if I had a Tylenol-resistant headache and had already taken the medicine with no help, she would offer sympathy. But there was no complaining allowed until I had taken the drugs.

I was reminded of this recently when she mentioned a friend who was spending a lot of time complaining about something, but who was totally unwilling to do what was necessary to fix the problem (which could be very easily and inexpensively solved). Tired of listening to the day-in and day-out whining, and tired of her advice being ignored, my mom finally told "Brenda" that she was going to stop trying to help her if "Brenda" kept refusing to do what she needed to do to help herself. My mom then revoked her friend's "complaining privileges", saying that she didn't want to hear another whiny word about the situation, and that if "Brenda" called to complain about her plight again, my mom would remind her that she didn't want to hear about it.

Time will tell if my mom can stick to her guns, but I hope she does. Frankly, I think this is brilliant! I can name quite a few individuals who deserve to have their complaining privileges revoked, but I've never had the guts to say anything to them. (Who knows but that I may be one of them? Yikes!) But maybe I should start saying something. I think we may do our friends a disservice when we spend too much time patting them on the back and sympathizing instead of helping them gain the courage they need to overcome their situation. When the power to fix something is within reach, it may be better to encourage a friend by pushing her forward and helping her jump over hurdles (and, if she refuses to move forward in favor of wallowing in her swamp of self-pity, revoking complaining privileges if necessary) than to sympathize and nod our heads in woe-is-me agreement. Support should mean more than just an understanding hand to hold; if necessary, it should also mean a swift kick in the butt.

That's not to say we should look at the problems of others and immediately diagnose them as deserving or undeserving of our compassion. Issues like depression or illness can render even the strongest person incapable of helping his situation. And we should recognize that every person, especially a friend, will reach out for a little sympathy and understanding at times, with absolutely no need or want of a solution. He might just want a listening ear or someone who can support him through a difficult time, not a lecture on what he did to get himself into his mess and a rebuke for not fixing his problems on his own. And obviously there are issues that may be solvable, but the solution is either so difficult or so out-of-reach that sympathy is all that can and should be offered.

But there are definitely times when the best thing to do for a person might be to revoke his complaining privileges.

So watch out, you could be next.


MyDonkeySix said...

I completely agree. My family has the problem of offering too much sympathy and not enough kicks in the butt to get going. My sister could use that. There comes a time when whining is done and action needs to be taken. Who wants to spend their life in miserable limbo when they could easily make things better? Duh, right?

MyDonkeySix said...

Me again. I forgot that I did revoke complaining privileges from my mom about her problems until she did something. It was nice, though she didn't call me for months. But it was worth it because she got the message.