What to do instead of complaining

It’s been a difficult week, and the final straw for me was when we received a letter from the school my kids attend saying that, after 52 years, they are changing the principle that students and teachers should all be addressed by their first names. What was once a pioneering and progressive school (it changed my life when I attended) is being prepared for cookie-cutter academisation. You can read more about the school and its ethos here.

It really upset me, and I complained to everyone who would listen. A lot.

And then I remembered what Eckhart Tolle has to say about complaining:

“See if you can catch yourself complaining, in either speech or thought, about a situation you find yourself in, what other people do or say, your surroundings, your life situation, even the weather. To complain is always nonacceptance of what is. It invariably carries an unconscious negative charge. When you complain, you make yourself into a victim. When you speak out, you are in your power. So change the situation by taking action or by speaking out if necessary or possible; leave the situation or accept it. All else is madness.”

When I first read this, I didn’t get it. It seemed like he was saying we should just roll over and accept everything. What about ‘“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” (J.F. Kennedy after John Stuart Mills).

But, if you look more carefully, Tolle is absolutely not saying we should do nothing. The first thing he suggests is to change the situation by taking action. So I’m doing what I can. There’s a petition here you can sign if you want to support us..

If action gets you nowhere, and it may well not get us anywhere as I think the diocese is determined, then you can choose to leave. I won’t be doing that because my daughter is actually very happy at the school, and I hope that it can survive long enough with enough of its current ethos to see her through her last two years. But I wouldn’t send a younger child there now if I had one.

Finally though, if action isn’t working and you can’t or won’t leave, it is, says Tolle, ‘madness’ not to accept it. That doesn’t mean you have to like it, but complaining doesn’t get us anywhere, and makes us and everyone around us feel terrible. Ultimately we don’t even know what’s best. This year the same school closed their sixth form and my son, who had hoped to go there, was devastated. But maybe it was actually the best thing for him to be pushed out of his comfort zone and go somewhere new.

So I’m continuing to take action, and will continue to take action, but also working on completely accepting whatever the outcome is.

Think about it.

Why not try out my free e-book, 30 ways to Mindfulness, with a task for each day, and see how much difference a regular mindfulness practice can make to your peace of mind.

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9 thoughts on “What to do instead of complaining”

  1. What a great post Rachael! I’ve just sat down inwardly complaining about a cancellation with little notice and opened my emails to find your blog. I think it is sometimes easier to complain rather than take action and I find that we have become a nation of complainers – the weather, work, traffic etc. Is it right that our brain tends to be more focused on the negative so it’s often more challenging to be positive and therefore take action? So, I think it’s time to introduce that cancellation clause !!!

    1. Yes, it’s absolutely right that we have a bias to the negative (to protect us from all those sabre-toothed tigers wandering around). Complaining is definitely different from taking action, and is soul-destroying over time.

  2. Complaining to someone who can’t change the situation is gossip. Telling the person in charge about facts is proactiveness.

    1. Yes, it can definitely cross over with gossip. I used to work somewhere where every day I came in to be greeted with, ‘You’ll never guess what they’ve done now!’ It wasn’t a good place to work at that time (though my colleagues were lovely) but that culture definitely made things worse and upped the stress for everyone.

  3. I think it’s a great quote too. It reminds us that the complaining is getting us nowhere. Time to move on.

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