By: Vidagdha Bennett
Complain? groan, grumble, mutter, fret and fume, air a grievance, gripe, grizzle, kvetch, beef, bellyache, whine, find fault.
Decidedly, it is difficult to imagine anyone who does not fall into this category on a fairly regular basis. The possibility that there might exist a Pollyanna, somewhere, who does not get up each morning and immediately launch into a rant against the weather, the surroundings, the morning news, the day ahead and so forth, bedazzles any normal individual.
Complaining is part of our everyday diet. It is not an activity we choose; it is ingrained. And yet, now a pastor in Missouri has stepped forth to rid us of this scourge. With all the best intentions in the world, Pastor Will Bowen, a 47-year-old clergyman based at Christ Church Unity in Kansas City, has come up with the bright idea of purple plastic bracelets. Those among his flock who have been "complaint-free" for 21 straight days are eligible to wear the bracelets on their right wrist. Those who sadly lapse must switch to the left wrist and start their three week countdown all over again.
I imagined that the market for this decorative accessory might be one or two individuals at a stretch, but no. People magazine of March 12, 2007 reports that Pastor Bowen’s church has so far shipped more than 125,000 of the free bracelets to other communities since the novel concept was introduced.
How, I wonder, does one survive even a single day without complaining to your heart’s content (if that is not a contradiction in terms) about something? When Pastor Bowen’s poise is challenged, he purportedly says, "It’s another day in paradise."
In a recent poem about complaining?a poem which holds more than a hint of irony?spiritual teacher and philosopher Sri Chinmoy writes:
That is precisely the crux of the matter, of course. Living saints are somewhat sparse on the ground these days. And then there is the issue of whether we really want to stop complaining. Over long centuries, we have elevated complaint to an art form in itself; we have refined and honed the language of complaint so that it is rich in associations, humour and wisdom. Even a fair number of our proverbs (to wit, "Too many cooks spoil the broth") betray their origin as complaints.
There are even complaints which aspire to the level of prayer?not snivelling lists of God’s oversights but bold and daring attempts to prompt a seemingly stone-hearted God to respond to the forlorn cries of the human heart. The Saviour Christ’s heart-rending utterance, "O Lord, why hast Thou forsaken me?" is, undeniably, a complaint against his Father on high.
And while we acknowledge that most of our complaints?whether to nature, the government or God?are markedly ineffective, their very utterance gives us a certain satisfaction and enjoyment which Pastor Bowen would deprive us of. There is also the contingency that without the lively to and fro of complaining, we would simply run out of conversational topics. Political debate, for example, would simply become a thing of the past!
And another thing. Pastor Bowen blithely urges us to embark forthwith on the monumental task of counting our complaints. Counting them! As if it were possible to count the stars in the sky or the blades of grass on your lawn. Counting them? The days are not long enough, my friend, to encompass such a feat.
Alas, I do not envisage that I will ever qualify for a purple wristband worn on the right wrist and the lustre of sainthood that it betokens. Regrettably, the very fact of contemplating such a proposition has caused a whole new crop of complaints to sprout spontaneously in my mind. How could it be otherwise? The ever-wise Sri Chinmoy, while not endorsing complaints as such, points out the fact that they may, indeed, be unavoidable: