Saturday, June 25, 2011

Voices in the Sea

I wrote earlier this month about taking the complaint free challenge. The goal is to break the habit of complaining by going 21 days complaint free. I have managed to go several days at a stretch so far, but then something will happen that irritates me enough that it seems worth starting the count over in order to voice my momentary displeasure.

Then I read a passage in a book that stopped me in my whiny tracks. The book is The Pursuit of Happiness by David Myers. In one chapter, the author suggested that having a broader view puts our trivial, temporary inconveniences in perspective.

A British veteran reflected on his experience with things of gravest import after sailing with Russia-bound convoys through German-submarine-infested icy waters: “There are two things that I shall always remember. The first is the sound of men’s voices in the sea at night, when you can’t stop to pick them up ... and the other is the sound of people’s voices complaining in the shops at home.”

When I read that, I felt so ashamed of the things I thought warranted my critical commentary. I’ll give you two recent examples. It was hot in taekwondo class the other night. I leaned my sweaty face near a classmate’s and moaned, “I’m dying in here!” Well, it was hot, but of course I wasn’t dying. I was voluntarily engaging in an activity I truly enjoy.

The second example is a bit more complicated. The simple version is that I am struggling to get health insurance since my retirement, and I spent several conversations with friends detailing the hours I have spent in the infuriating morass of insurance runaround, and outlining everything that is wrong with our health insurance system in the US. Yes, there are problems with our system, to be sure, and there is nothing wrong with having an opinion about the pros and cons of various alternatives. But I wasn’t having a reasoned discussion. I was griping, pure and simple.

This short passage with the stark contrast went right into my heart. Perhaps because I am terrified of drowning, and the image of being abandoned in dark, icy waters infested with anything is an image that makes my heart race and drops me to my knees in gratitude for the ridiculously blessed life I have.

I’m reminded of a blogger I greatly admire who writes about her son Sammy’s battle with leukemia. During some irritating incident they encountered, young Sammy put it all in perspective by wisely observing, “It’s not as bad as cancer.”

Out of the mouths of babes.


  1. So, so true.
    I haven't been doing so well with the no-complaints challenge; my best so far has been 8 days in a row. At least I do keep starting over, not giving up!

  2. love this idea..complaint free....I try to do gratitude's amazing how good both these attitudes can do.

  3. No complaining!!!! I missed that. It is a good one. Will have to try it. Been a bit negative at work lately.

    I am also starting a gratitude journal. Every morning I am to write 10 things I am grateful for. There will be duplicates!! Taekwondo... did it many years ago. It is great for stress. Keep it up!

  4. The young fella sure is an admirable example of gratitude. It's looking like I'm going to have to start one of these 21 day challenges and see how I do... oh oh, this is going to be a real challenge with 3 courses on the go! One day at a time and at least I'm blessed enough to be in any courses!

    Enjoy your day Galen!

  5. Good morning Galen....I love coming here to see your latest inspiration. My husband had Kidney cancer several years ago...and when we find ourselves frustrated or complaining....our comment is the same as Sammy's "At least it isn't cancer." What a wise young man.


  6. I admire your true it is so easy for us to complain when things don't work out as we like!
    I am reminded of the quote "I cried that I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet."Thanks for sharing!;)

  7. Alexia--8 days! That's great! Remember to give yourself credit for your success! Thanks for commenting.

    sarah--Gratitude and not complaining go together very well. I keep a gratitude list, too. Thanks for your comment.

    restoring--A gratitude journal is also a great ides. I often am grateful for some of the same things, too. That's okay to remind ourselves that way. Yes, I really enjoy taekwondo. Now training for my black belt. Thanks for commenting.

    darlin--Let me know how it goes if you try the 21 days. I read that it often takes 4-10 months to actually go 21 days without complaining. Let's keep trying together. Thanks for your comment.

    Jo--Yes, he is a wise young man. And very brave. I hope your husband is doing well now. Thanks for commenting.

    Sparkylaurie--Great quote. Complaining is so easy, isn't it? And yet it's so damaging. Your quote helps us keep things in perspective. Thanks for commenting.

  8. I took your complaint challenge...and failed. After just four days I reverted to form. Much like your hot classroom, my breaking point was bothersome, but nothing that complaining was going to change.

    That's the thing about complaining or rarely changes anything and never makes anyone really feel better.

    OK, I'm done complaining about my failure.

  9. Hi Galen,

    I used to complain a lot and there was a lot of negativity in me as well. But over time, I realized the value of looking at the bigger picture. When we focus too much on the details, it distorts reality and we lose our sense of perspective. Having said that, there are times when I slip up and fear overwhelms me. But that is ok. As long as I become aware of what is happening and regain my centre of balance as soon as possible, I can work out what I can and cannot do. The serenity prayer comes to mind here.

    Thank you for sharing this lovely article! :)

    Irving the Vizier

  10. Bob--There is no such thing as failure in this challenge. That's the beauty of it! For those four days you did not complain. That's great! I have not yet made it past five days, but I look at it this way. If I am only complaining once every 4-5 days, that is a huge reduction! Hopefully, I can stretch those intervals and maybe one of these days get to 21 days. But in any case, I am more aware of complaining and I've cut way back. Celebrate your success! Thanks for your comment.

    Irving--Becoming self aware is a huge step. And yes, the serenity prayer is a wonderful reminder. It has become my mantra this year!! Thanks for commenting.

  11. I'll try to not complain - just for today and maybe tomorrow.

    Good work here.

  12. Hi Galen,
    I am not at a point where I can even honestly begin the challenge...not because don't believe in it, but because there are a few 'challenging people' I am currently dealing with on Sammy's behalf. More on that in my blog soon! I do have to admit that I get a lot of strength from Sammy and his wise old ways...that goodness he is the type of person he is....and thank you, Galen, for reminding me of that fact in your post. Sometimes I am too close to see what is right beneath my nose!

  13. Peaches--One day at a time. Sometimes one minute at a time! Thanks for commenting.

    Katy--Not complaining doesn't mean not dealing with challenging people! At least I don't think so. There is difference between complaining, which simply drains the spirit, and constructive engagement, which speaks truth. So glad you stopped by--I was going to let you know I mentioned Sammy, but you got here first! Thanks for your comment.

  14. Yep, Sammy and I think alike. When I find myself getting ready to moan and groan about something, I stop and think, whoa, it could be worse. I could be dying of cancer. Anyone in a hospital now with this disease would gladly change places with me.

    Puts it into perspective.

  15. Great post. Complaining just makes you and everyone around you have a bad day.

    Hubby and I had a BQ this last weekend and this reminds me of that. The adults are sitting on the patio talking the 6 little grandkids are playing with the hose. The 3 year old got a hold of the hose and is spraying it straight up in the air and all of the sudden we are getting very wet. The first reaction of some was to get upset with this little one that had no idea what she was doing. To her she finally has the hose and was seeing what it would do. I started laughing and then everyone else seen the humor in this action.
    We would dry out, and this little 3 year old made us all laugh. Complaining sure wasn't going to make us any drier, but laughter would make us grateful for the cooling off on a 90 degree day.

    When you find yourself complain, find the positive side of the situation. There always is one.

  16. We don't do ourselves a favor when we complain..., we actually dwell on what we don't want..., and we'll get more of it if we keep complaining. Keep the challenge going!!

  17. THANK you for this. I know my biggest sin is complaining. I think I will try the 21 day challenge...beginning today as I haven't complained yet!!! But it is only 9:45. What is bad is that I KNOW how blessed I am and I still find things to complain about:(
    Thank you for your comment on my blog about compassion. Bless you

  18. I loved the idea of going 21 days complaint free. I may have to wait until my ankle heels from surgery. I know that my posterity will not be able to say at my funeral that I never complained.
    Blessings for the challenge.

  19. I am with you here on this one - took me awhile to get here as my puppy had emergency surgery on Saturday to remove something caught in his throat. It was scary and I did not complain, but the emergency surgery centers for pets, wanted $4k on my credit card before they would go ahead.
    I had to sit down and be real that I did not know how I could pay that off and would I have to "put him down" because I could not pay.

    I figured out I could pay down $2K at the most, so they tried 3 procedures and finally a surgery and got the object out.

    The Vet's are rarely getting paid in this economy so they have started this practice. I see that I need to learn from them with my new business venture Wise Ears because when people are in need - I go soft and mushy. When we had a conversation and got on the same page, we got a resolution - if I had complained I would have been left with putting my puppy and friend "down"

    I do think over the years a massive "steam valve venting session", is vital ( especially about health ins.) to helping us renew ourselves and progress our thinking. I think it is so important to our health and well being I am offering just such a service on Wise Ears

    Complaining about the weather - pointless and just builds more to complain about...

  20. Everything in life is relative. We think we have it bad until it gets worse. Then what we thought was bad seems like a walk in the park. A sudden tragedy for instance pales every other everyday gripe pain or loss into complete irrelevance in less than a heartbeat. Life is a great leveller.

    Nice topic Galen :-) thanks for raising it.

  21. ryoko--Yep, Sammy is one smart kid. Thanks for your comment.

    Debbie--What a perfect example of choosing how to react to a situation. And what a gift to that child that you chose to laugh it off rather than fuss at her. Thanks for commenting.

    Maya--We reap what we sow with out thoughts. Indeed. Thanks for the encouragement.

    Shanda--Glad you are going to give it a try. Let me know how it goes! Thanks for commenting.

    LeAnn--Don't wait! Start now and just do your best. If you find yourself complaining, shower yourself with compassion and try again! Thanks for your comment.

    Patricia--Looking for the positive side is difficult when our loved ones are hurting. We don't have to repress or deny pain and sadness. That's a good time to focus on compassion, for yourself and for your loved one. Hope your puppy is all right. Thanks for commenting.

    Jean--For some reason, your comment reminded me of my mom's reactions to my boyfriends in high school. She never liked the current one, but when I would start dating the next one, she would sigh wistfully, "Whatever happened to [last one]? He was so nice." Thanks for your comment.

  22. I enjoyed your post and the complaint free challenge is a great idea. Thanks for visiting my blog and commenting. I hope you will return and follow it as well. I am following yours :)

  23. Hi,
    I have a purple bracelet and I've come a lonnnnggg
    way with no complaining. If I feel myself in an ungrateful and complaining mood I get the bracelet out and begin again. Keep up the good work!

  24. Hi Galen,
    Putting things into or looking at things with a different or wider perspective rings true. The quote that you used here was a great example. I am not immune to complaining but I try to pull myself up quickly with a little phrase..." there's always some one worse off than you right now"
    be good to yourself

  25. Cynthia--Thanks for following and I'm following you back. I look forward to your comments here and to reading more of your blog as well.

    Tess--Congratulations on your long success! The bracelet is a good reminder to pull out now and then when we need to! Thanks for your comment.

    David--It's all relative, and in that way we also see that we are connected to each other. Whatever I'm feeling, there are people better off, worse off, and also just the same, feeling just what I'm feeling right now. Thanks for commenting.

  26. I love the contrast in the story and it's inspired me to take on this challenge. Wish me luck!

  27. Galen,

    This is the perfect challenge for me! And I'm not one to hop on challenges easily. Thank you for this.

  28. Kara--I do indeed wish you luck! Keep in touch and let me know how it's going. Remember to celebrate your successes and let go of the slip ups!

    Sandra--Let me know how it goes! I've now made it over a week. The longer I go, the easier it is to catch myself before I complain. Thanks for joining me in this challenge!


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