TERRY PRONE: Eleventh commandment should be ‘thou shalt not complain’. Ever

Unlike most previous Popes, Francis doesn’t buzz off to Castel Gandolfo for a cool holiday during these summer months, when Rome becomes a swelter of stickiness. 

He stays put in Vatican City, working away, sleeping in an apartment there. A sign was recently affixed to the door leading to that apartment, courtesy of His Holiness. It reads thus: ‘Complaining is forbidden.

Offenders are subject to a system of victimhood that reduces their sense of humour and capacity to solve problems.

To become the best of yourself, you must focus on your own potential and not on your limitations. So stop complaining and act to change your life for the better’.

Apparently, a self-help guru, a psychologist named Salvo Noe, gave the Pope the sign, when he visited him a couple of weeks ago, and the Pope thought it would
be a laugh to put it up outside his apartment.

With luck, it might just be more than amusing. It may reduce the flow of negativity reaching the Pontiff. Except for one small complication: most complainers, moaners, whiners, and whingers don’t know they do it. They honestly don’t.

“I’m not complaining,” is how one woman I know starts her every conversation.”I just…” and then she launches into a litany of laments, personal and professional, frequently ending up with ‘I told them, but did they listen?’

To which the answer is ‘Probably not, because you arrive in front of them, every day, with a series of moans and have habituated them into trying to get you out of their office as quickly as possible.’

But what’s fascinating is the self-delusion of ‘I’m not complaining’ indulged in by whingers who genuinely believe that their whinge is not really a whinge. Or if it is a whinge, it’s an above-the-average type of whinge, and — if it’s made about office matters — is aimed at the common good.

These are the people who parse every incoming email to find some phrase that can be interpreted as personally offensive, the colleagues who can always tell you why a proposed bright idea couldn’t work, the cynics who roll their eyes at the naivete of co-workers who want to change things for the better.

The old managerial rule of ‘don’t bring me your problems: solve them’ has been somewhat undermined by the growth in complaint-facilitating systems.

Every employee today knows about anti-discrimination and anti-bullying policies, and most employees know how to make a complaint about an individual, whether that be a co-worker or a boss.

Few know how to create solutions or take initiatives, even in customer-facing companies, where giving the person who is catching the complaints discretion about refunds and apologies would result in a much happier clientele.

Moaners constantly point out dangers and risks, but are not attended to need to look up Aesop’s story about the little boy who kept crying ‘Wolf!’ The first few times the boy did it, the community leaped to attention, took their small children and pets indoors, and locked themselves in to watch where the wolf prowled.

They were kind of surprised not to see any vulpine, but thought no more of it. However, when the boy kept announcing the presence of a wolf that never materialised, the neighbours got fed up with his performance.

‘Hysterical, melodramatic eejit’, they said to each other. Of course (bring on the minor key music), eventually a real wolf arrived at the village, spotted the young fella, and made a run at him.

The little boy went ‘Wolf!’ The neighbours went ‘Yeah, right’ and stayed in their cosy beds. The wolf went ‘Slurp slurp’, as he ingested the lad.

It’s all about attention-seeking. Wolf-boy wanted everybody’s attention, for being the first to make the complaint about an impending threat. Mrs Gummidge, in David Copperfield, wants everybody’s attention for the tough life she perceives herself to have as a widow.

“I am a lone lorn critter and everything goes contrary with me,” she announces to everybody — way too frequently — throughout the book. Give her her due, she responds well in a crisis, but it’s not enough. She’s the sort of moan the Pope doesn’t want near him and he’s dead right.

Bad stuff happens to everybody. The notion that one person is singled out for a disproportionate amount of grief is most frequently promulgated — about themselves — by people who are experiencing no more than what a goodly chunk of the population is experiencing at that time.

People lose their jobs, particularly in a recession. People have older relatives who lose their memories and competence and need care.

People drive cars up the exhaust pipe of other cars or have their own exhaust pipe vehicularly assaulted. People get food-poisoning, hangovers, punctures (in the wheels of their cars, usually) broken-down boilers, cancelled appointments, and mice in the house in the autumn. None of these merits complaint.

The rule is: unless they all happen on the one day, get over them.

If they do all happen on the one day, complain to only one person and do it only once. Don’t get on social media, seeking to create a choir of electronic keeners. Because here’s the truth about electronic keeners.

They have the energy to be desperately sympathetic once and only once. They’re SO horrified to hear of you being abused, beaten by your husband, abandoned by your partner or afflicted with whatever medical problem afflicts you.

Then, the caravan moves on and you’re left with only the other people who have the same problem.

And, you know what? It gets tiresome listening to them, even if they front load a little sympathy for you, before moving on to their own complaint. The commonality of those put-upon by life is ultimately unrewarding, largely because to define yourself by your tragedies is intrinsically demeaning.

Another factor about the current culture of complaint is verbal escalation. Gay Byrne is driven nuts by the prevalence of people on radio programmes claiming to be devastated. Half the time, he suggests, people announce themselves to be devastated in the face of a minor
inconvenience about which it would be more appropriate to describe themselves as ‘somewhat miffed.’ But ‘miffed’ has faded away as more sensational terms describing vexation take over. We need to revive ‘miffed.’ And dilute it with ‘somewhat.’

Why is it that people who complain are considered worthy, whereas those who cope with the same daily challenges, and make no issue out of coping, are regarded as intrinsically trivial?

Now, complainers rarely achieve anything, but the fact that they have noticed something wrong with the world and drawn the attention of the rest of us to it puts them on a higher plane, somehow. To point out what’s wrong with the world is noble. To point out what’s right with the world is crass and shallow.

Enough, already. The Pope is right and his notice, translated or in the original Italian, should be prominently displayed in the workplace (Always remembering that the workplace might also be the home).

Complainers, moaners, whiners, and whingers don’t know they do it. They honestly don’t

© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved

Email Updates

Receive our lunchtime briefing straight to your inbox

More in this Section

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay ...


Breaking Stories

Householders in northeast without water until tomorrow evening

Dublin man who drowned off coast of Egypt while saving woman's life, named locally

Bryan Dobson set to leave Six One News after 21 years

Tributes paid to young footballer who died in car crash while on holiday

Lifestyle

Wife, mother, and maker of fine furniture

Meet Michael Moss - London’s last Irish farmer

Finding inspiration on a quiet island in West Cork

David Lyttle is taking jazz back to America

More From The Irish Examiner