Pro-Complaining and Anti-Chill

This week I watched part of an episode of the The Daily Show in which former NBC new anchor Tom Brokaw was interviewed. I didn’t know Brokaw had been sick but he had multiple myeloma or cancer in the bone marrow in his back. Jon Stewart pointed out how amazed he was that Brokaw was in pain but never let anyone know about it. He never complained. This was admirable to Stewart. It isn’t to me.

I would want to hear about someone’s back pain caused by cancer. That is pain that needs to be voiced. I want to hear about pain caused by a headache. Jon Stewart joked that he tells people about having gas and I would want to hear about it! I want to hear about how everyone experiences the world around and inside of them even if it irritates, annoys or grosses me out.

Because that’s all that we are.

I think most people confuse whining with complaining. Here’s an explanation of the distinction from Psychology Today:

Complaining and whining can be distinguished by the nature of the dissatisfaction and by our motivation for expressing it. Complaining involves voicing fair and legitimate dissatisfactions with the goal of attaining a resolution or remedy. When we voice legitimate dissatisfactions but do so without the goal of attaining a resolution we are merely venting. And when the dissatisfactions we voice are trivial or inconsequential and not worthy of special attention, we are whining.

I’m actually pro complaining, venting and whining when done properly. I’m for describing how you’re experiencing the world around and inside of you whether there’s a goal of attaining a solution or not. To me it means you’re awake, alive and aware.

I complain and vent a lot because it makes me feel better. I’m aware of something and it sucks and I acknowledge it. But, I’m smart about it. I consider the audience and when it isn’t appropriate, I complain to myself.

The bad name given to complaining is just another thing I get/don’t get.

Here’s my theory: those who don’t complain, the stoic, stiff-upper-lip types are so unaware of how they feel or are so unskilled in acknowledging anything irrational that it feels wrong somehow. To these types, acknowledging pain is to complain or whine about pain. But it ain’t.

This dog is so “chill”. By KC Green

What is complaining to the Tom Brokaws of the world is being superaware of what is happening to me. Recently I said out loud for no one and everyone to hear: “Why is there suddenly so much horn honking?”. What I’m really saying is “Something is changing/wrong/out of sorts on the streets of the city I live in”. When I say “my knees hurt” to no one and everyone I’m saying “I’m in my body. I’m paying attention. There is a potential problem here. Take it easy, Mel.”

Something I think is directly related to the frowning upon complaining is this noxious idea of “chill”. For those of you who don’t know what “chill” is (it deserves quotation marks forever), here’s a definition from Alana Massey from her great article, “Against Chill”:

To the uninitiated, having Chill and being cool are synonyms. They describe a person with a laid-back attitude, an absence of neurosis, and reasonably interesting tastes and passions. But the person with Chill is crucially missing these last ingredients because they are too far removed from anything that looks like intensity to have passions. They have discernible tastes and beliefs but they are unlikely to materialize as passionate. Passion is polarizing; being enthusiastic or worked up is downright obsessive.

Massey lays out the history of the word “chill” and notes “these definitions are deceptively simple ways of asking people to have fewer strong emotions”

It seems like the attitudes, behaviors and stances our culture approves of are narrowing and extreme and contradictory. “We” admire the chillest amongst us, the ones who let things roll of their backs and never appear overly emotional or affected. But in the areas “we” have agreed emotion is mandatory, “we” endorse emotion that is overly sweet, overly sentimental and nauseating. When feeling is allowed, it’s cartoonish.

I like to complain and I have no “chill” and I like these tendencies in others. With awareness and an inability to be quiet about what I’m feeling comes a tolerance of the sometimes messy emotions and intensity of other people. It makes me feel closer to people. From Oliver Burkeman’s article “Keep Complaining! It’s Good For You!”:

To exchange dissatisfactions is to acknowledge another person’s existence, and to share rueful mutual sympathy at the sometimes tremendously irritating predicament of having been born.

“Stop complaining!” “Be Chill” — behind these ideas, I suspect, is the growing and gross positivity movement that is the new opiate of the masses.

When I (never) become Queen of the World, complainers will be free to complain without ever experiencing an eye roll or an unsolicited solution or explanation. The strong, silent types will be banished to an island with the “chill” people where they will be forced to wear shirts with itchy tags in them, everyone is forced to make only the most superficial small talk, no one cares about anything, and everyone dies of boredom.


8 thoughts on “Pro-Complaining and Anti-Chill

  1. Excellent post! Yes, I complain and it helps me…it may also help others in finding and solving problems themselves. I am so happy to be a cancer survivor, but one relative told me NOT to talk about it as it bothered others! That made me feel like an invisible person, not someone who had *beat* cancer. So I do talk about it when I want! Thanks for a great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “With awareness and an inability to be quiet about what I’m feeling comes a tolerance of the sometimes messy emotions and intensity of other people.” I just read your “The Highly Sensitive Person: A Breakdown” post, which was shared by space2live today. Perhaps that is why, as I read *this* post, I could not help but think of complaining and venting as the wonderful and authentic antithesis of sentimentality. (I really wanted to say “authentithesis”!)

    As an INF/TJ, I am “touchy-feely” on the inside, yet reticent on the outside, depending on the authenticity and comfort level of the company. I have a deep appreciation for emotions because I spend so much time processing them, both mine and others. All too often, I come across people who misuse emotion in the form of sentimentality for the sake of attention, so much so that the object of the sentiment is lost altogether. It starts to feel like a masquerade, and I very much dislike playing dress-up with emotions. If anything, complaining and venting is a dressing down – not up, at least for me. It’s not just a verbal way of getting outside your own head, where you can only do so much processing. But it’s also a way to peel back the layers and get down to the “thing of it”, so to speak. Whether it is just to get it out, as one would a poison, or to get it resolved.

    Anyway, both posts have my brain pinging with good processing. I’m glad to have come across your blog. I’m hooked up for future posts, and I also look forward to backtracking!


      1. I’m glad my thoughts resonated! And like a true introvert, I’m also somewhat relieved, since it was my first interaction here! You know…that feeling you get right before you hit “enter” and send a portion of your own vulnerability into the internet universe. The topic of vulnerability is another good one in and of itself. I look forward to your elaborative thoughts on this one!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks Mel. Made me smile AND think that there does seem to be a pervasive attitude around, and it almost feels like the message often is, ‘ if you complain, then you are a negative complainer, you are the issue’. When hanging around with the positive chant people (thankfully not too often) I’m left feeling a bit shit, and annoyed, because I’m ok that x is a bit shit, but it IS a bit shit and I wanted to talk in truth, but now I’ve been labelled as a negative person. I want to be able to say is shit and y is great! And I want to know what the people around me love and hate, or feel indifferent to; otherwise we end up living in a world where no one says what they mean, and we’d all be pretending. Quite honestly that sounds like some sort of he’ll to me. I love your blog, you show the strength of sensitivity for me. Michelle x


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