I grew up in a little farm town in Illinois amidst taciturn dairy farmers and equally close-lipped corn and soybean farmers. Winters were cold – 20 below with a wind-chill factor that often drove it even lower. Almost every spring, an ice storm would knock out our power for a week and our family would be forced to huddle in one room around a Franklin Stove. We kept our perishables in the sandbox in the back yard. In the hot and humid summers, kids earned money in the field roguing beans and detassling corn. They’d plod down the rows in 100+ degree heat, gnawed on by mosquitos with the low drone of cicadas for a soundtrack. But what they didn’t do was complain.
Complainers were not appreciated. “Keep it to yourself.” “I’ll give you something to cry about.” “Stop your bellyaching.” It was as if an entire region had wordlessly agreed to be silent about suffering. Health maladies, deaths, joblessness, heat, cold, ice, the football team’s less-than-stellar season–it didn’t matter. “Stop your snivelling.”
I marinated in that mindset, internalized it, then made it my own. To this day, if I hear someone complain, I inwardly cringe, judge them as weak and try to shift the conversation to happier ground. Above all I feel I must shut that S*#! down!
But here’s the funny thing about whiners. Sometimes they have good reason to complain. Like a canary in the coal mine, they may serve as an early warning to an impending disaster. Or if they’re more sensitive, they might notice things that others can’t or won’t see. As with all internal roles, whining has an important function.
When I was first explosed to the concept of Deep Democracy, the part about honoring all the voices of the system (especially the unpopular ones) resonated with me. In my career, and in my personal life, I have actively silenced whiners believing I was doing the most healthy and appropriate thing.
Today I still hear the echos of my upbringing when someone begins a tale of woe or a litany of troubles. But instead of mentally rolling my eyes and changing the subject, I now allow myself to become curious and look at the complaints as clues to a puzzle that’s asking to be solved. Unless you try that at a dinner party at my house. Then you may feel free to suck it up. Nobody likes a buzzkill.