Saturday, May 2, 2015

Is it Complaining?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Recent internet posts and conversations have me thinking lately about complaints. A few months ago I was challenged by one post to not complain and to look for the positive in situations and build up others. Great idea! There's so much negativity in the world already, so trying to find the positive in a situation makes sense.

But real life happens and in the course of conversations, someone asks how you are and rather than giving the usual response of, "I'm fine," you share your concerns with someone close to you. Is that considered complaining? 

I've heard it labeled as complaining by some. Others would say no, because they did genuinely want to know and are concerned for your well-being. So which is it?

Someone I know is going through a very difficult time of life. As she relates what's happening in her world she downplays the real story. I don't know the reason why. Maybe she is sparing some of the details. Maybe she doesn't want to worry others. Or maybe she doesn't want to come across as complaining. I honestly don't know. 

As I was pondering these scenarios, I wondered what the difference was between complaining and relating facts about life. The conclusion I came to was it's all about what's in the heart.

For example, I may relate details of a challenging day to a friend in order to share life and to give them a context in which to pray for me, possibly offer help, or give advice. If my motivation for relating these details is to simply relate to those who care about me, it's not complaining--in my opinion. 

Should I be offended or feel uncomfortable if someone close to me wants to tell me about her challenging events of the day? I don't believe so if we have a relationship that lends itself to that sort of conversation and especially if I ask how it's going. Granted, some people politely ask how it's going with no intention of hearing the truth.You can usually tell when someone isn't interested in hearing details and it's best to just move on.
By contrast, if I withhold the challenging details of my day from a close friend or a loved one simply because I don't want to appear to be discontent or complaining, how is that benefiting either of us?

I do feel as if there is a fine line between complaining and telling others what's going on in my life. I guess finding that balance is crucial. I should ask myself questions before I speak such as...

      Why do I want to tell this person about my problems? 
     Am I trying to manipulate them into helping me?  
     Do I want to deepen our relationship by sharing my burdens and sincerely 
             look for help or support? 
     If I do need help, why don't I just come right out and ask for help rather 
             than manipulate or guilt others into helping? 

I think the key is often in the relationship and knowing who your audience is. I think our culture--our beliefs, customs, way of life, the people we live around--forms how we handle these types of situations. I grew up in a more superficial culture where people just didn't talk about their feelings and for the most part acted as if everything was fine. After moving away from that culture and into a different one, I've learned that not everyone is that way. I have learned that when one of my friends ask how I'm doing, they truly want to know--every detail, everything good or bad.

I guess my main point in all of this is that we need to be careful not to assume the worst of others when someone shares a concern or a burden. What may seem like a complaint on the surface may simply be someone needing to be heard. If the person speaking is close to you, you should know what's going on in their life so that you can pray for them and offer help, when appropriate. If you are close enough to them, hopefully you know whether their heart and whether what they offer are complaints or concerns. 

And, of course, we should also weigh our words carefully before speaking and ask those questions of ourselves: Is what I'm going to say building up or tearing down? What is my motivation for sharing? 

So what do you think about this topic? I'm curious to know...