(About a 4 minute read)
“Never explain, never complain.” — Benjamin Disraeli
I have long been an enemy of the cheerful notion that “Life is Only What We Make It to Be”. I much prefer, as I like to put it, “to see both the spider and the fly, to accept both the flower and the thorns of life”.
The notion that we should or must focus on the silver linings, or be unreasonably optimistic about both the present and the future, is simply alien to my spirit.
But please don’t get me wrong! I am not advocating unreasonable pessimism any more than I am advocating unreasonable optimism. When no reason for either pessimism or optimism exists, I advocate neutrality. And I have the experience to say with certainty that, even in the darkest hours, we do not know that tomorrow will be dark. I have known both totally unexpected bad fortune, and totally unexpected good fortune, too.
But it’s neither unreasonable optimism nor pessimism that I most oppose. It’s self-pity.
Some folks oppose self-pity because it is unsightly. They are repulsed to witness it. But I oppose it because it’s a killer. It not only kills your spirit, your willingness to affirm life, but it also sets the stage for suicidal thoughts and ideation.
It seems perfectly ironic to me that, when we chronically or habitually pity ourselves, we also typically complain that life is dull and meaningless — without ever seeing how the one encourages the other.
I am not as opposed to whining as I am to self-pity. I do not much like whining, and I seldom believe myself to genuinely indulge in it, but I recognize the need to vent at times, along with the emotional and psychological benefits of doing so.
As you might expect, I draw the line where whining threatens to slide into self-pity. Ideally, the whining stops long before that slope edge is reached.
But if whining can be good at times, how can we make it as good as it can be?
Well, I think three things can help with that. First — and maybe foremost — I think it helps immensely to inject whatever humor we can into our whining, even if the humor is lame. Even in the severest circumstances, a bit of humor can usually be found — if only sarcasm.
“My boyfriend beat me last night. He’s such a hands-on man, he believes the best way to show love is with his fists.” Such a statement might come hard to think of or to make through the tears, but in my experience, it’s more than enough to both communicate what happened, and to garner empathy. Even more and truer empathy than you would likely garner with a less humorous statement.
A second thing that helps when whining is to put it in perspective. Even if you don’t actually state it as such (although I think you should), it helps to mentally place your whines in perspective. And the usual way of doing that is to consider that what has happened to you is not the worst thing in the world (unless you’re a young child, abandoned, alone, and starving to death in Somalia).
Putting things in perspective helps us to overcome them — at least emotionally and psychologically. And overcoming them in those ways can be more than half the battle to better times.
A final way to make the best of whining is to speak as dispassionately about your troubles as you can. When we whine, a lot of us are prone to throwing in how this or that made us feel. But consider this: Unless you are talking to a psychopath, throwing in your explicit feelings is about as necessary and useful as making gestures to influence the role of your dice.
The exception is when the way something has made you feel might be unexpected by your audience. “I was so relieved when he said he wanted a divorce. I almost laughed in happiness, though it made me sad at the same time.”
To sum, there seem to me three main ways you can ameliorate the ill effects of whining while punching up the benefits to it. Those are to inject humor into it, to put your troubles in perspective, and to speak as dispassionately as you can about it. I will wager if you do all three, you will not only garner more healing empathy than otherwise, but you will also prepare yourself mentally and emotionally to overcome your troubles.
This post was inspired my Mr. Nothing’s brilliant parable of Ega and Oge, which can be found here.