Complaining is a dish best not served at all

Reframing our narrative.


Emma Hester, The Horizon

The grumbling that’s become second nature.

Jon Kratzberg, Staff Writer

“Why does he have to assign two tests this week?” “This food is terrible!” “Why is Thanksgiving break so short?”

One of the worst parts of adjusting to adult life is realizing how rarely life meets our expectations. Relationships aren’t just fun, they also require work. College isn’t just a time to gain new experiences with friends, it is often a time of hard work and studying late at night. So, as we experience the growing pains of adulthood, it’s easy to complain about just how few of our expectations get met.  

The sound of complaining is rarely pleasant to anyone’s ears, and yet I have trouble finding someone who has not done so in the past week. Moreover, while most would love to stop someone else’s complaints, they rarely willingly change their own behavior. Sadly, the best way to cause change is to start with oneself. So, how do we as students at Westmont change the culture of complaining through our actions?

You, in the back: how can we reduce complaining here at Westmont? “Stop complaining.” That’s your answer? Realistically, when we ask people how to change something, the first answer is to just stop the behavior. However, this posture of “just do it” rarely works and is often discouraging when someone relapses into their old habits. Instead of this toughen-up-and-do-it mentality, I propose a different solution. We can change complaining in our community by changing the narrative we tell ourselves.

A new narrative? Yes, a new narrative. The truth is, we constantly buy into narratives about our lives. Even this article is a narrative presented to you. Granted, I believe it is a reliable one, but I digress. Other stories include the idea that the way to happiness is money, seen in songs like “24K Magic” by Bruno Mars and Ariana Grande’s “7 rings.” We could even talk about the narrative that our noses need to look a certain way, confirmed by over 200,000 nose reshaping surgeries done in 2017 alone. 

The fact is, we are bombarded daily with narratives that push us to compare, which ultimately leads to whining. Taking the nose example, let’s say I’m fed a myth that my nose needs to look a certain way and then shown people with the “proper nose” on Instagram or Facebook. If I buy into this narrative, all of a sudden I will believe something is wrong with me because I don’t look like the people whose perfect nose I lack. This is the spiral of comparison, as Riley Potter so elegantly points out in her articleComparison is the thief of joy.” As we feel the weight on our shoulders of what we think we lack, complaint has the perfect door to enter our lives. Complaining becomes a way to cope because we want people to hear that there are things wrong with the world and, even maybe, something wrong with us. 

Moreover, the truth is that constructive criticism is something we need more of in the world. As we face companies nowhere near close to stopping the harmful business practices that push people into poverty and pollute the environment, we could use such criticism. We could also use it to point out the unproductive nature of current political discourse in the United States. Yet, despite all the ways constructive criticism can point out real problems, complaining only makes things worse by driving people away from the discussion before it has even begun. 

Luckily, if bad narratives lead to a posture of complaining, then a positive narrative should have the reverse effect. Specifically, the alternate narrative we should all look to is the fact that “we’re still standing,” like what Elton John sings. It’s a reminder to look at the bright parts of our lives. We have the option to focus on what we don’t have or we can look at what we do have. Especially in the United States, even some of the least fortunate are better off than half of the world

We have comfortable beds to sleep on, heating and air conditioning, warm clothes, accessible modes of transportation and more knowledge than in all of human history at our fingertips. While many of us view these as necessities, they are nothing more and nothing less than blessings we did little to nothing to deserve. The sad truth is that complaining comes from an unsatisfied heart. As we complain about not having the newest iPhone or how hard our classes are, we forget that our Lord and Savior barely possessed anything while he was here on earth. Even our daily breath is a gift we forget to appreciate. 114 people every minute lose that gift. It’s easy to think we are falling and need more to keep us up, but in reality “we’re still standing,” arguably in a better place than people throughout all of history.

How would living this narrative look like for a Westmont student? In all honesty, the key is generosity and gratitude. If you were born in a different place, or at a different time, you likely would never have the possessions or money you do right now. This reminder is not to guilt you into feeling bad for what you have. Instead, this should almost lead you to tears. How blessed are we that college is even an option for us? For many people today, it never will be. In light of this reality, complaining amounts to spitting in the face of the gifts you have been given. It’s like receiving an avocado for Christmas and not even having the decency to say thank you. 

While this language may seem intense, we need to wake up and realize that we have everything we need in Jesus. There are no holes in our lives but the ones we keep him out of. It takes time and everyone goes at a different pace but, as long as we complain, we know our hearts are not truly grateful. 

What can we do about this? Rather than complaining or joining in on a complaint, find God in it. He enables us to still remain standing. Challenge your friends, and yourself, to pray for God to become more and for you to become less so you can see how much he does in you every day. I know I need more of this in my life. I challenge you all to not be satisfied with complaining and negative attitudes, but rather know the truth about yourself and push for the posture of Christ, which was never to complain. He offered his negative feelings — which are real — to God and allowed God to fill him with praise as he talked to others.


Opinions expressed in letters and other editorials, unless otherwise stated, are those of the writers and not of The Horizon staff or the college collectively.

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