I was sitting under an umbrella near our local pool the other day, while my children played in the water. My youngest son had just finished complaining about how hard it is to be ten years old, because none of the “good stuff” happens until you are eleven. (Eleven is the age at which the county allows swimmers to be at the pool unaccompanied by a parent or otherwise responsible adult.) Beside me was a young lady complaining to her father that, for reasons unexpressed, she hated being twelve. Seated at an adjacent table was an older woman complaining of the intense heat; and farther away, a man complaining that the water was too cold.
I was beginning to sense a theme…
As human beings we gripe. We vent. It’s what we do. Whether about petty annoyances or grave injustices, it seems to be in our nature to complain. While conventional wisdom says to refrain from complaining and instead focus on the positive in every situation, is expressing dissatisfaction necessarily a bad thing? After spending an afternoon – a lifetime, really – observing this phenomenon, something finally occurred to me: sometimes it is simply the ability to complain that sustains us.
Call it “the virtue of venting”. Voicing our grievances is a healthy outlet for what ails us emotionally. As long as we don’t fall into the trap of wallowing is our sorrows, as long as there are moments of contentment between the bouts of grousing, expressing our frustrations aloud can be a productive way of dealing with them. Knowing that we have a shoulder to cry on or a sympathetic ear is the real restorative force at play, here. Feeling heard. Feeling that there is someone in the world who cares about what upsets us. It is our connection with others which provides sustenance. It is our connection which allows us to progress beyond the whining, and begin the work of growth and healing.
So go ahead and get it out. Know that you are heard. But when you are through venting, let your dissatisfaction spur you to action – either to right the situation that has wronged you, or to find gratitude for all that there is to appreciate, rather than to complain about.
And hug the person who was by your side to listen.