"A gripey, negative and cynical attitude grieves the Holy Spirit."
That is a quote from a student handbook at a major religious school in a neighboring state.
Every few weeks, someone asks me how I can work in the field I am in - at times by a guest or family member, sometimes by a friend, often by a resident. They often pair that question with a reference to all the complaining we in this field must put up with.
I always answer that I love my job: I love the residents, the families, the staff, and the challenges and the rewards of performing this mission and the loving relationships we enjoy. Complaints are part of it.
Complaining is a necessary part of life. People complain to express how much they care about something, and to relieve stress - sometimes about things that have nothing to do with what they are complaining about. We try to prepare new staff to understand that the stress they see and/or hear from a resident, guest or staff person may be about exactly what that person is saying, and it also may be about their health, financial or personal concerns - like an ailing family member or friend they are deeply worried about. People often release stress where they feel the safest to do it: with someone close, as within a family or extended family; or, sometimes where it is nearly anonymous.
To complain about the challenges of the field we have chosen to work in would seem to contradict the very nature of our chosen mission. It would be like physicians' only healing the well, or caretakers only taking care of those who were the easiest to care for.
I don't believe any scripture from any faith says:
"Blessed are all - except the complainers."
Everyone complains, and everyone receives complaints.
On the other hand: it is less-than-joyful to be on the receiving end of a complaint. We all understand the need and right of human beings to protest, criticize, register complaints and grumble. When negative emotions are added to the expression of a concern, it feels personal: as if the recipient of the complaint is to 'blame' - which is not the same as being responsible for solving an issue. One of the most important things I ever learned as a manager is to differentiate between responsibility and blame. Blame is a corrosive force that undermines the foundation of trusting relationships. If forgiveness is the balm of the human soul, blame may be among its worst adversaries. Blame distracts the focus from the issue to emotions. It makes it easier to dismiss the concern as whining, carping, finding fault, nitpicking or nagging.
If we make it safe to complain, we foster an atmosphere of trust: "it is safe to express concern and/or dissent." And - it is safe to feel grumpy and know that your concerns will still be heard, not only when you are expressing them positively. It doesn't mean that the issue can or will be solved immediately, or that that issue - or others - will never recur, but that it is safe to express them.
I try not to complain. When I want to accomplish something, my yardstick for expressing a concern is: "is my approach positive and constructive." But I don't always succeed. Sometimes, I complain. And the odd thing is, when I'm complaining, I want to be heard even more than when I'm being positive and constructive.
That's probably why I'm complaining.
~ Scott Nilsson
Atlanta, Georgia - USA / 2nilssons.com
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