Let Them Complain

I saw someone on social media yesterday or today say that they agreed with a positive humanist sentiment but weren’t going to post a similar statement on their wall because people would complain. I get it. Sometimes it’s too much or the wrong people to muck with or behavior that goes beyond mere complaints. I’ve been there.

On the other hand, there can be value in staking out territory and letting those people complain about it. I’m not talking about being “edgy” in hopes you‘ll offend people. I’m talking about claiming a space for your values and allowing others to try to make you move.

I think by now everyone’s seen the status quo warriors charging about to combat the great scourge of “complainers”. “You’re always looking for something to complain about. You’re no fun. You’re so negative. Why can’t you just let people be and be happy?” You’ve also seen that this can undercut even the most sound of complaints.

One of the things I hate most about our current positivity culture is the way it lumps all types of complaints and complainers under the heading of “bad things”. If it’s negative, it must be bad, yeah? But complaining about someone’s else private choice of music is a very different thing than complaining that you can’t sleep at night because your neighbors play their music so loudly. There’s an important difference between spoiling someone’s fun because they “shouldn’t” have fun and standing up for yourself that positivity culture obscures.

Unfortunately, I can’t just make positivity culture go away. But while I chip away at it, I can subvert it, and I do. Where I might phrase something as a complaint, I can instead say, “This is what I believe. This is what I value. This is what I want for the world.”

“I want our events to be accessible to all the people we say we want to help.”

“I want to see the work of women in this movement rewarded on par with men’s work, with recognition, power, accountability, and a safe, welcoming environment.”

“I want us to demonstrate the appreciation of expertise that we espouse, particularly in discussions of important matters like human rights.”

When I do that, yes, some people still complain. That’s not going to stop anytime soon for reasons that are a whole other discussion. But by complaining, these people take up the role they try to assign to me. They become the killjoys. They become the people who can’t just let others be (and it’s all the more obvious when I’m stating values they say they share).

I’ve spent enough time on the defensive. I mean, I’ll complain when I can do some good by complaining, but I prefer doing this when I can. I’m happy to throw them off kilter instead.

Try it yourself. Talk about the world you want, the world you’ve trying to build, even when you know people will complain. Let them complain. See what good it does them.

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Let Them Complain
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