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The Dying Art of the Complaint

By Scott E. Roeben

That’s it. I’ve had it. I’m sick and tired of the state of complaining in the world, and I’m not going to take it anymore.

In recent years, the art of the complaint has taken an ugly turn. Everywhere you go, people are talking about being "happy," and finding "contentment." Well, this is a trend that simply cannot be allowed to continue.

Admit it—if it weren't for complaints, many of us would have absolutely nothing at all to talk about.

Let’s be clear about the problem. The decline of complaining is a direct threat to civilization as we know it. That’s right. The act of complaining binds us together as a society. The ability to complain is what makes us human—well, that, and our inability to fold fitted sheets.

Admit it—if it weren’t for complaints, many of us would have absolutely nothing at all to talk about.

Complaining is a national pastime in America. It is perhaps the best way for us to channel our anger and frustration. Without this outlet, we would have to resort to "doing something" or "taking action" or even—if you can fathom this—"constructively resolving our problems." Oh, please.

No, it’s time to take a good hard look at the rapid decline of complaining in our society. Time to shore up this ageless form of self-expression. In hopes of furthering this worthy pursuit, I’ve put together a short list of tips for effective complaining. Now would be a good time to start taking notes.

Tip #1: When you complain, always ignore the facts.

That’s right. When you’re complaining, it’s essential you ignore any and all of the facts related to your complaint. Facts, after all, are ultimately irrelevant. Facts just muddy the waters.

Want to complain about the rising crime rate? Feel free. Just ignore the fact that the crime rate has been steadily declining for the last decade.

Go on. Complain about the legal system—and just never you mind that our system is far and away the fairest and most effective anywhere.

Complain about gas prices. Go on. Just make sure to ignore that our gas prices are some of the most reasonable on Earth.

Again, the truth is utterly irrelevant when it comes to effective complaining. If you need a metaphor, facts are about as relevant to complaining as bras are to the residents of the Playboy mansion.

Tip #2: Always exaggerate.

A simple but effective complaining technique: Don’t just do it—overdo it.

Don’t just gripe about someone being overweight, say "Bill Gates couldn’t afford to pay for her liposuction."

Don’t merely say someone is dumb, rather, say "a dust mite could beat him at Trivial Pursuit." Or perhaps, "I hear it takes George Dubya two hours to watch 60 Minutes."

Catching on yet? That’s it, just exaggerate:
"Last week, I spent 17 YEARS in line at the DMV."
"These foreigners are taking ALL of the good jobs."
"It’s IMPOSSIBLE to find a good plumber."

Simple, huh? No embellishment is too extreme when it comes to effective complaining.

Tip #3: Always compare the present with the past.

Comparisons to the past are a great source of inspiration for creative complaining. Older people excel in the use of this technique, probably because they have more "past" than the rest of us.

"Oh, I just can’t understand the prices today. Do you have any idea what a loaf of bread used to cost? Back in my day, you could buy a loaf of bread for a penny. Sometimes even less. Of course, we didn’t always have bread back then. Sometimes, during the war, we had to put our bologna between two rocks. Sometimes we didn’t even have rocks. We had to make our own rocks with sand and water, when we could find sand and water that is, which we couldn’t most of the time because of all the foreigners taking our good sand."

Notice the skillful use of both Tip #2 (exaggeration) and Tip #3 (comparing the present with the past). This is an example of world-class complaining.

The past is a rich treasure trove of things to complain about. We can either complain about how tough we had it, or complain about the fact that nothing’s quite like it used to be.

Always feel free to take a trip back through time when you’re scrambling for something to complain about.

Tip #4: Complain about things you can’t do anything about.

If you think people complain about things because they want things to change, you’re really off the mark. Complaining isn’t about change. It’s about complaining. Hence, it makes a good deal of sense to limit your complaints to things you can do nothing about. (Like the past, for instance. See Tip #3.)

"Doing something" is the death of the complaint, and should be avoided at all cost.

The weather is perfect in this regard. Complain about the heat, or humidity, or bitter cold, or rain, or sleet or sandstorms—whatever. Take your pick. Weather conditions are the perfect subject matter for complaining.

If you remember nothing else about this guide to complaining, remember this key point: "Doing something" is the death of the complaint, and should be avoided at all cost.

So, with these four tips in mind, what are your complaints, and how might you begin to do your part to keep the complaint from becoming as extinct as scruples in American politics? How can you start today to complain more often and more effectively?

Think about who you would be without your complaints? Would that person be recognizable to you or the people in your life? Even more frightening, what would your world be like if everyone you know suddenly stopped complaining? What kind of hell would that be?

Make no mistake about it, the art of the complaint is dying. This plight requires that we stay creative and focused in our complaining. What do you have to complain about? Well, lots of things. Here are a few you might try:

Complain about being tired (then stay up all night trying to figure out why.)

Complain that there’s never enough time.

Complain about politicians. Even politicians complain about other politicians, so why not join them? (Mention the lack of scruples in politics whenever possible.)

Complain about your medical condition. About healthcare. Complain about the fact that you’ll never, ever be your ideal weight.

Don’t forget welfare. If you’re poor, complain about the rich. If you’re rich, complain about taxes.

No matter where you go, complain about the terrible service.

Complain about our educational system. "Back in my day, we knew a helluva lot more than these kids today. I could make artificial limbs out of pewter! These kids today don’t know a damned thing about pewter."

Complain about the post office. (Just not to postal employees. They can be a little touchy.)

Complain about the IRS. If you work for the IRS, complain about the fact that people are always complaining about you.

If you’re a member of an ethnic minority, you have so much to complain about.

Complain about pollution. About landfills.

Complain about other people’s music.

Complain about your love life. "Lonely? My favorite time of day is the ‘stroke of one.’"

You can always complain about your spouse—you know they’re out there complaining about you. (Watched Oprah lately?)

If you go to a bad movie, complain about that. If it’s good, complain about the fact that there are so few good movies.

Complain about tobacco companies. "Those cursed tobacco companies. They practically came into my home and made me inhale those toxic fumes all these years. Now that I’ve coughed up my lung, they owe me bigtime. Sure, when I coughed up the first lung, I guess I could have stopped smoking, but their magazine ads are so deceptive. They duped me—those bastards!"

What about drunk drivers and helmet laws? And you can always complain about traffic. If you see someone speeding, complain about how reckless they’re being. If you get a ticket for speeding, complain about that, too.

Here’s a neat trick, too. If you run out of things to complain about, try watching the local news—it’s a virtual gold mine of things to complain about.

With a little creativity, there’s nothing that can’t be turned into a complaint. You won the lottery? What about the taxes they take out? Get promoted at work? Well, was that really the office you wanted?

Remember, every silver lining has a gray cloud.

We simply must ignore those who say that when we’re complaining, we’re merely observing what’s wrong with life rather than living it fully. We must ignore the people who tout the complaint-free lifestyle. These are the same lunatics who claim we should confront our complaints head-on. These are the people who make the outlandish claim that complaining erodes our quality of life. These individuals are clearly crackpots.

How do we keep the complaint from becoming a thing of the past? It’s up to each and every one of us to do our part. Get out there and begin complaining immediately. You can start by complaining about this article—that it was too long, or too short, or poorly written, or not funny. Are you ready to take on complaining about what a terrible and ineffective article this was? (Of course, you can. Just remember Tip#1—ignore the facts!)

Remember, to err is human. To complain about someone else who erred is divine.


Scott Roeben, 2001. All rights reserved.