A Kibosh On Complaining

Marine Corp. Eric Silva, of New Jersey, fights the wind for his tent during a severe sandstorm at Camp Viper in the Iraqi desert, Tuesday, March 25, 2003. Iraq often sees sandstorms in the spring, but Tuesday's storm was exceptional, bringing dust and sand from as far away as Egypt and Libya.
AP/San Francisco Chronicle
It pains me to say this, but I think we're going to have to declare a moratorium on complaining until the war in Iraq is over. It's not going to be easy for us. We live in a culture of complaining. You might think that as our society has become more successful and comfortable, we would've given up on complaining. On the contrary, we've elevated it to new heights. It's possible today to hear people say things like, "I'm tired of sunny, blue skies every day," or "The air conditioning in my new car is so powerful, sometimes I can't hear my free CDs," or "The doctor never finds anything wrong with me."

Complaining has become an art form or an extreme sport. Expert complainers find ways to even complain about good things. They'll say things like, "That big bonus I got messed up my tax situation," and "The food and service were great, but why do they have to serve such big portions?" and "My house has never caught on fire, so why am I paying all that money for insurance?" And of course, there's "Just my luck. I finally lost all that weight. Now I have to buy new clothes."

You could easily imagine someone saying things like, "My kids are doing so well that I feel unneeded as a parent," or "What was the point of going to Hawaii if my tan was going to fade in a few weeks?" I wouldn't be shocked if I heard someone say, "I got a stiff neck from looking up at that building I inherited." That's how good complainers have gotten.

However, lately, I haven't been as comfortable complaining as usual, and you may have felt the same way. When the Santa Ana winds blew last week in Southern California, I found it hard to complain about a headache and itchy eyes knowing that some people had to endure sandstorms in Iraq while trying to avoid getting killed. And how can you complain about a traffic jam today when others have had to drive to Baghdad, and they haven't complained? How can you get mad at noisy neighbors when people have to somehow live through the sounds of bombings every day?

Now is one of those times when it's hard to avoid the fact that most of us are very fortunate. It's a time for being grateful, not for complaining. It's not a time for throwing a tantrum if they accidentally give you a Tall Mocha instead of the Latte Grande that you ordered. Being at that job you don't particularly like isn't really "Hell" — being over there is "Hell." Before you say something like "I just can't stand this old house of ours," maybe you should think of those whose homes have been destroyed.

That's why we should have a moratorium on complaining until the war is over. Personally, I don't know how long I'll be able to hold out. After all, right now I'm complaining about there being too much complaining! But I'm going to try, and I think we can all at least try to refrain from whining about everyday, minor things like soggy newspapers, stupid TV commercials, or squeaky brakes. (Complaining about columns you don't like is still fair game.)

When this war is over, we'll probably slip out of this mood of being thankful, lose perspective, and return to complaining about trivial things. I have a feeling that none of us will have forgotten how to complain. It's human nature, and it's not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I'm looking forward to when our soldiers come home and resume participating in the American custom of complaining. I want to hear those veterans grumbling about things like getting bad reception on Channel 4, or the telemarketer who always calls during dinner, or people who pronounce the "t" in "often." Then we'll all be able to be thankful that these silly little things have once again become the biggest things that most of us have to complain about.

Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover.

By Lloyd Garver