I’m a little embarrassed to admit it, but I found myself growling out loud this afternoon.
We got another 14-or-so inches of snow yesterday, which in and of itself was quite spectacular. Not only did the blizzard cause whiteout conditions where I could not even see the trees at the back of my yard, it was also accompanied by booming thunder and lightning that, in moments, lit the world in white fire.
Unlike last time, I was actually prepared for this one. The night before, I’d tucked my car parallel to the back of the house, quite close to the wall, so that the plow would have maximum access to the rest of the lot the next day. I then pulled the car cover on; and to assure that the winds — predicted to be 20-30 mph with gusts up to 50 mph — didn’t sweep up underneath and parachute the cover clear off, I’d even though to open the trunk and hood, and then close each on portions of the car cover, securing it firmly in place.
As the storm raged outside, I congratulated myself on how clever I’d been and took comfort in knowing that, as soon as it subsided, I’d be able to just walk outside and slide that snow-laden cover off, leaving my car gleaming and untouched while the poor schmucks around me labored at brushing and scraping their own buried vehicles out from under the piles.
Friday, I slept in a bit. There would be no need to get out early to clear the car off, thanks to my brilliant planning the day before. So I finally headed out at noon to remove the cover and snow, and to get out and about my day.
Upon stepping out onto the porch, it was immediately clear that this storm was worse than the last. The snow was the heavy, wet kind that was going to be hard to shovel or move at all. It was equally clear that the new plowman had done a shoddy job, leaving about a third of the lot piled in snow that should have been pushed much farther back, and thereby eating up one of the four parking spaces. I felt bad for the landlord.
I turned the corner and … wow, the snow sure was piled high on the car. It might take a few tugs to get that cover to slide off.
I pulled. It didn’t budge. I braced one shoe, already sodden, against a tire and pulled again. Nothing moved. Not so much as a centimeter.
I took a different approach, lifting the elastic edge from under the rear of the car and trying to fold it up and over the snow on the trunk, thinking this would perhaps make it easier to pull the whole thing off from the other side.
However, I quickly realized that the underside of the car cover was completely frozen to the vehicle.
This may have been the first time I growled.
Over the next 30 minutes, I pushed. I pulled. I shoveled snow off the car (yes, with a shovel). I stood on the hood for leverage. I wedged myself into the foot of space between the house and the car, hip-deep in snow, and pulled some more.
What’s more, the keys were inside the car. Normally, this is intentional, since entry to the car is gained from a keypad on the driver’s door. Only now, the snow was halfway up the door and there was too much snow in a tight space to allow me to open the door anyway, even if the car were clear.
I pushed against the doubled-over car cover with the edge of the snow shovel — which ripped clear through the tarp-like material, pouring snow out onto the only clean part of the car I’d managed to expose.
I believe this was the second time I gollared, not unlike a stuck boar, I imagine.
Finally, I dug a tunnel beside the driver’s door, down on my hands and knees, and reached up under the tarp, feeling my way around the keypad to enter the code that unlocked the doors. Then I backed out, soaked through and with my fingers throbbing with prickling pain, and entered the car through the passenger side. Driving blind, with the car still three-quarters covered with tarp and snow, I edged the car forward six feet or so. Then, with no thought for saving what remained of the tarp, I expended the rest of my waning energies on using the open space to heave that cover, inch by stubborn inch, off the car at last.
The whole ordeal had taken a full hour — much longer than simply using a brush and scraper would have taken. I was freezing. I could already feel my back and knees paying the price.
And yet … I have to say, that was the end of the inner grumbling over it. In actuality, even during the worst of it, despite the growls, my brain was feeding me my own advice:
“Will this matter in a year?”
I’m not exaggerating when I say that I formed a mental picture of the car, already cleaned off and parked in its usual place. I knew that this was an inevitability; it would not simply stay snow-encrusted until spring. And so I was able to push forward, the “future truth” urging me on. It gets done. You know this. So every minute here is one minute closer to that eventuality.
And that eventuality … did become a reality. The car is cleared and parked in its usual spot.
Still, my choices weren’t over. My back, knees and shoulders are still sore. My fingertips are still not quite right, even as I type, feeling like low-level electricity is circulating through them, trying to get out. It would be the easiest thing in the world …
… to complain.
Perhaps ironically, I had just been talking with my friend Chad the day before, while the storm was in full force. He’d shared with me something that had struck him in a new way recently, something he wanted to pass along to me, even suggesting that I might find it good fodder for an upcoming blog post.
But when he shared it, though I assented to its being true, and I understood why it had stood out to him, it just wasn’t something I connected with in that moment.
Little did I know that, less than 24 hours later, his words would feel up close and personal.
Here’s what he told me:
“Complaining is a waste of time
unless you’re telling someone
who can do something about it.”
Now, at first glance, this may seem like a repeat of the central theme from my last post:
“Anger is nothing but a big, fat drain.”
[Please read the post for important qualifiers on that statement.]
However, while it does share some things in common with anger, I view complaining (a.k.a. grumbling, griping, whining, kvetching, carping, grousing) as something … else … something I decided was worthy of its own post.
It might be best to outline quickly what complaining is and is not before continuing too much further with the discussion.
Life isn’t always roses and sunshine. Difficult things happen. And discussing those things with select people is not only acceptable, it’s often necessary.
Telling your doctor about a physical ailment is not generally what I’d consider complaining. And keeping such things to yourself can actually cause even worse problems down the line.
Likewise, sharing with your counselor or a trusted friend that you’re feeling depressed or negative isn’t complaining.
Nor is telling your spouse or a close friend about difficulty at work that’s causing you to consider finding a new job, if you believe that person to be both a source of comfort and counsel toward helping you process and make a wise decision.
I’d add that it’s not always necessary that the “select person” be someone you know or someone close to you.
Just two days ago, a passenger van carrying disabled school children was weaving erratically through traffic on the highway, catching my eye in the rear-view mirror. Finally, the driver wound up behind me, racing up and falling back, warning me to get out of his way. I pulled into the center lane and, as the van blew by, I quickly made note of the number on the “How is my driving?” bumper sticker. I voice-dialed the number immediately, but the van was going so fast, I hadn’t had time to also get the vehicle number or plate number. When the representative answered the line, I told her about the speeding van. My heart in my throat, and still speaking with the woman, I drove 75 … 80 … 85 miles an hour, before I finally got close enough to the vehicle to read the information. Holding at 89 mph, I was finally able to report the vehicle before dropping back to a safe speed.
Was I complaining? In a certain use of the word, I was “filing a complaint,” yes. But I don’t see this as complaining. Nor would I see speaking to your human resources department about sexual harassment as complaining.
Let’s revisit what Chad shared with me:
“Complaining is a waste of time
unless you’re telling someone
who can do something about it.”
What do all of the examples I’ve given above have in common? Well, in each instance, the concerns or thoughts or emotions are being shared with “someone who can do something about it.”
In this way, it seems a solid working definition to say that complaining is sharing negative information, thoughts or emotions with someone who cannot do anything about the situation.
To accept that definition of “complaining” seems it would be a life-changer, wouldn’t it?
Keep in mind, speaking negative thoughts or opinions may, by this definition, still constitute complaining when shared with a doctor, counselor, spouse or friend, if that person is not able to do anything about it — either because of the nature of what we’ve shared … or because we aren’t open to their help in “doing something about it.”
Complaining can even be internal dialog — speaking negatively to yourself about a person, situation or life in general — if you have no intention of making the choice to do anything to resolve the situation, or if resolving the situation is an impossibility.
Lastly, for now, I think it’s important to draw a line between complaining and venting. This one can be tough to discern. There are certainly times when we just need to get something off our chest with a safe person, without the expectation (or even the desire) that the person directly try to solve the problem or offer suggestions on how we might.
So how do we know if what we’re doing along these lines constitutes complaining or not? I think the definitions provided above, along with a willingness on our part to be honest with ourselves, can help in making the distinction clear. If our sharing a difficult situation or internal struggle with someone is truly a means of getting it out of our head, so that we can stop ruminating and work toward finding better ground, then this would still constitute “telling someone who can do something about it” — even if all they are doing in that moment is listening attentively. If we choose such a person carefully, they can very much help us sort things out, if only by allowing us to hear our own thoughts clearly.
Back to my snow woes, should my grumbles and growling be considered complaining? In and of themselves, I’d have to say — yes. Though a growl isn’t exactly words, it was a voicing of my dissatisfaction and frustration with … whom, really? God? The Universe? The snow itself? Was there a chance that my growling would fall upon the ears of someone who was going to help get me out of the situation any faster, even by way of moral support?
And if my grumblings were only for myself, did they help me help myself solve the problem in any way? To all of the above, I can only answer “No.”
As I mentioned, I did wind up turning things around with some positive self-talk, which did help me with the task at hand. But in isolation, I would have to say that the moments of growling still fell under the category of complaining. Those utterances were something I had to work against, not anything that was working for me as I faced my difficult situation.
So … based on the discussion here, how much complaining would you say you tend to do?
Be sure to check back next week for Part 2, where I intend to further explore several reasons why we tend to complain — what we perhaps hope to achieve by it, whether successful or not — along with offering some suggestions for using that insight to make new choices where complaining is concerned.