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#346: Quit Your Whining!
Sha'arei Teshuvah on Mishlei/Proverbs 18:8
A man complaining excessively in a bar. Image Credit: Substack AI
Gimme Some Torah #346
Welcome to new subscriber Rabbi R.!
דִּבְרֵ֣י נִ֭רְגָּן כְּמִֽתְלַהֲמִ֑ים וְ֝הֵ֗ם יָרְד֥וּ חַדְרֵי־בָֽטֶן׃
The words of a complainer are bruising;
They penetrate one’s inmost parts.
From a pessimistic point of view, the past twenty-two years have amounted to a chronological Dumpster fire. It’s been one unmitigated disaster after another:
•The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
•Hurricane Katrina destroys New Orleans
•The recession of 2008
•Superstorm Sandy causes chaos in the Northeast.
•God knows how many mass shootings.
•Political division resulting from the election of 2016
•A continuing wave of heroin overdoses sparked by the overuse of OxyContin.
•Strife over the 2020 election
•The January 6 insurrection
•An unprecedented wave of mental illness, resulting in homelessness and drug abuse.
•A significant rise in violent crime and especially sexual assault.
Indeed, there are plenty of things about which we should complain, and the list above is a decent start. That said, we all spend a great deal of time whining about nonsense. It’s one thing to complain about injustice. It’s an entirely different matter to whine constantly about things that either don’t matter or that simply have no answer.
Useless, habitual complaining gets in the way of תְּשׁוּבָה (teshuvah, repentance) because it causes us to look elsewhere for the source of our problems. With some notable exceptions such as domestic or partner violence, most of our problems have their roots inside us. Therefore, we should spend more time fixing ourselves than complaining about minor annoyances.
Rabbenu Yonah (bio) describes how excessive, whiny complainers pollute our lives:
King Solomon, peace be upon him, said (Proverbs 18:8), “The words of the complainer are bruising; and they enter the innards of one’s belly.” Its explanation is that a complainer is a man whose way and whose nature is to always complain, get angry and find (movements) [pretexts] about this fellow, regarding his actions and his words - even though his fellow is innocent towards him, and did him no harm in anything.
In other words, the complainer is essentially born to whine and moan. But we are not thralls to our genes and upbringing—we have the ability to change. Complainers are capable of becoming more peaceful people, they just need a little help from their friends.
If I were assigned the task of reforming a complainer, I would try non-judgmental conversation. I might say something like, “Wow, you’ve sounded pretty unhappy for quite awhile. That must be painful for you.” Eventually, I would launch the torpedo: “Tell me how your complaining has made your life better.” Boom.
Rabbenu Yonah then says that the excessive complainer is one who makes mountains out of molehills:
And he judges everything unfavorably, and not favorably; and anything inadvertent he makes volitional. And he surely makes himself like the oppressed and beaten, and as if the sin of his fellow is heavy upon him; whereas he is the hitter and the beater, as his words “enter the innards of one’s belly.” For the one who places complaints in front of his fellow when he did not touch him and only did good to him brings a storm to the heart.
The excessive complainer turns accidents into major felonies, misunderstandings into acts of treachery. This kind of behavior ends up doing the opposite of what the complainer wants, as people who hear excessive whining are more likely to ignore the complaints than do something about them.
As if that weren’t enough, excessive complaining is harmful to both complainers and their targets. It turns out that the harm is not just spiritual or psychological. Warrantless complaining actually causes our brains to shrink.
Here is my unsolicited (and yet somehow excellent) advice: Go on a complaint fast. Actively prevent yourself from complaining for half an hour. Then an hour. Then an afternoon. Replace your complaining with acts of gratitude and charity. You’ll see in short order that your life will improve.
The recipe for happiness is not a secret!
What differentiates a legitimate complain from a useless one?
What are your pet peeves, the things that make you complain the most.
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