There's no winning in whining

By Tom Ehrich
Posted Jun 13, 2012

[Religion News Service] I was sitting in a new neighborhood restaurant with a disappointing breakfast of weak coffee and cold French toast.

I opened Facebook on my iPad and posed a quandary: I want this restaurant to make it because our neighborhood needs more. Should I tell the proprietor about my experience? I know most people don’t welcome critique. Should I bother?

The verdict from my small slice of the Facebook universe was to tell him. Otherwise, as one put it, “how will he know?”

OK, that makes sense. Yet, still I hesitated. Not because I dreaded a confrontation — I live in Manhattan, after all, where confrontation is a way of life. I also know firsthand how cruel it is to withhold information that a person could use to improve their performance.

Why did I hesitate? I think I am tired of all the whining I hear. Ours has become a culture of whining, and I didn’t want to be part of it.

People bristle at the slightest discomfort or shortcoming. If they don’t get their way, they lash out. If the line is too long, the traffic too slow or the elevator too full, they whine.

People stand in the grocery aisle surrounded by enough food to feed many villages and whine about the lack of one specific product. People whine about bosses, colleagues, and the unidentified “they.”

In the techno-blogger world, people whine about the new Microsoft operating system, a minor change in the iPhone screen size, or Timeline on Facebook.

Religious people whine about other points of view. The pope is whining about nuns. Right-wing Christians whine about uppity women. In left-wing circles, the elderly whine about change and losing control to younger constituents.

In politics, everybody is whining. What a farce our campaigns have become. Attack trolls spot the slightest off-word and pounce in instant outrage, as if the nation were being invaded.

In a store, one uber-mom was whining to her son about the price of camp equipment. A daughter was whining to her dad.

Do we all feel that helpless? Is our addiction to control so granular that we cannot tolerate anything out of order?

As I reflected on my weariness with whining, eight Russian tourists entered and filled the restaurant with noise. It dawned on me that we are a crowded breed. Living in congested cities and suburbs, driving congested highways, seeking work in a crowded marketplace, under assault by advertisements and bright lights, our privacy is made marketable and our interests are manipulated.

Yes, in some ways we are helpless. The greedy will not rest until they have pillaged our entire culture. We are indeed not in control. In a way, our childlike whining makes sense, because we are being treated as wayward children, not as responsible adults capable of making our own decisions.

As the song says, if there be peace, let it begin with me. I don’t have to like all that I see. I can choose not to feel threatened by a world beyond my control. I can choose to tolerate. I can choose to make room for others. Getting my way won’t improve the situation, nor will it improve my life.

In short, I don’t have to whine.

I did tell the proprietor about the coffee and cold meal. I told him I wanted him to succeed and thought this information would help. He was grateful. He said the hotel next door sends many Eastern European guests for breakfast, and they prefer weak coffee.

“I will make a cappuccino for you next time,” he said.

— Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of “Just Wondering, Jesus” and founder of the Church Wellness Project. His website is Follow Tom on Twitter @tomehrich.

Statements and opinions expressed in the articles and communications herein, are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of Episcopal News Service or the Episcopal Church.

Comments (7)

  1. Chris Arnold says:

    Dear Tom,
    You are correct: people do whine a great deal. People also have valid opinions and viewpoints, and valid complaints. How are we to tell the difference? And how are we to distinguish between the two without seeming contemptuous or dismissive of valid concerns? As somebody who is occasionally critical of the rapid pace of change in our church and the chaotic politics in our society, I’d like to think that I can voice my concerns without it being described as whining. Can you offer a way to tell the difference?

  2. I think that the difference between whining and feedback is: Are you willing to do anything about it? In your case, criticizing your meal online and then NOT telling the owner of the restaurant would simply have been whining. As one of my colleagues notes: “Feedback is love.” If we don’t care, we won’t give feedback. However, if we simply complain to others rather than giving feedback to those who could do something about it or, better yet, doing something about it ourselves, all we are are doing is whining.

  3. I don’t know exactly what but there is some kind of wonderful metaphor lurking under cover of weak coffee and a restaurant’s appealing to its foreign customers. . . .

  4. I don’t remember the coffee in Russian being weak, and I think I would remember — I love strong coffee.
    I appreciate your decision to speak with the proprietor. It IS love when you are truly trying to help someone, to tell them how they can improve. That is not whining, it’s caring — for them, and their future customers.

  5. Jason Lacey says:

    Does some of this same principle apply to certain Vestry members….?

  6. The Rev. Elaine H. Breckenridge says:

    “Feedback is love.” I appreciate that comment very much. I shall think about that as it applies to parish ministry, where I sometimes have trouble discerning the difference between whining and feedback. As for the rest of the story, how wonderful that the proprietor is flexible enough to serve both weak coffee and cappucchino! What happens in parishes is that people often whine yet do not tell us what they need/like. Honoring preferences is possible but only if leadership knows! Instead we all end up drinking a toxic cup of coffee when options could have been proivided.

  7. Samuel V. Wilson, Jr. says:

    Most reflexive people live somewhere between assertion and accommodation. “What is the loving thing to do? Where do “I” stop and “you” begin? Thus, begins the daily work of discernment in a world more complex with every dawn. All I know is to pray, listen, reflect, and act and move on to the next episode in my daily work as a Chief Ranger at a Virginia State Park. A new creation arises with each new encounter. A visitor seeking knowledge? Confirmation? Affirmation? An air conditioned moment at the visitor center? Who knows, at first? But then comes the moment, usually. A connection, a smile, an earnest effort to clarify, explain, describe, or just quietly facilitate the visitor experience itself? Usually the experience is just right or I am not told otherwise. But Sometimes I am told that the “coffee is weak” and the “French toast is cold.” And that is when I know someone really cares about my work and wants me to improve. And the blessing is that I really do, too! Thanks, Fr. Ehrich, for framing that for me.

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