My days are full of communication with the people in my personal life, my work, and my community. Some of my interactions are highly interpersonal and intimate, while others are random collisions with strangers. Here’s an interesting thing I’ve noticed, and it applies to those I know well and others I have just met. It seems that certain of my interactions with others are positive, enriching and inspiring, brightening my day and lightening my mood. Others are downright frustrating, irritating and drag me down, and a common thread among these is complaining.
To complain, according to Google Dictionary, is “to express dissatisfaction or annoyance about something.” I don’t know about you, but I end my day with an inventory of annoyances, a list generated from my interactions with kids, husband, nanny, landscapers, utility company personnel, drivers on the road, colleagues, clients, and more. Ordinary life produces a litany of things to be frustrated by.
If I’m honest with myself though, there are also good things that happen during my day. I might not naturally catalog these positive items, but they are present and happening to me and probably to you as well. The mixture looks something like this:
- I win a new piece of business I’ve been seeking for weeks (Win! Good!)
- I have an argument with my 15-year-old before school (Lose! Bad!)
- My dogs come into my office for a loving pet and snuggle (Win! Good!)
- My schedule is tight and stressful and I’m running late to meetings (Lose! Bad!)
- The 15-year-old shares a funny picture with me by text (Win! Good!)
- Someone is hogging the left lane on the highway (Lose! Bad!)
- I find a prime parking spot at the train station (Win! Good!)
- I realize I forgot to send an important item to a client (Lose! Bad!)
- The waitress on the train has an angelic smile that melts my heart (Win! Good)
- My train seatmate is talking loudly on his phone for nearly the whole 4-hour trip (Lose! Bad!)
- I have a rewarding conversation with the clerk at the drugstore (Win! Good!)
- The hotel doesn’t have my reservation right, AGAIN (Lose! Bad!)
And so on, etc., ad infinitum…
The mixture of the “good” and the “bad” is for the most part balanced, like in my list of examples above. Good blends with bad, beautiful with ugly, and awesome with ordinary. There are exceptional days that are full of positives, and days where things don’t go my way. But the normal day is a grab bag of positive and negative interactions and results.
No matter what kind of experiences I’m having, I have a choice about which experiences I share with others. My husband walks in the door, or my colleague calls and says, “How are you?”, or I stop to chat with the neighbor on the street, and right then, I have a decision to make. What will I pull out of the bag and share?
If I ask my inner voice – my running conversation in my head - what’s important, she’d like to focus on the negative things that happened – the argument, the crazy schedule, the irritating seatmate on the train, or the bad driver. She might even inflate those things, rail on about how bad they were and make them 10 times bigger than before. When I follow her lead, it leaves me drained and frustrated. I re-experience the things that dragged me down so that they reverberate more loudly than before.
Even worse, I consider where sharing those negative things leaves my conversation partner. Not raised up or inspired or feeling more powerful. Instead, my associate is more likely to reach into his or her own bag and start pulling out the terrible things that happened to them during the day.
What if, instead, I ask my committed self, the person that walks mindfully through this world, which experiences to share? She is committed to leaving people stronger and better than when she met them, committed to helping others. Her commitment is to make others smile and brighten the world with her own smile. She will tell me to reach into the bag to share the loving moment with the dogs, the beaming waitress, the business development win, the perfect parking spot.
On a side note, there are times when sharing the negative is applicable. I might choose to share it when I feel like it will make a difference for someone else, for them to see my thinking or understand where I’m coming from. Sometimes I need help with a worry or concern and sharing allows others in my life to make a difference for me, to help dig me out of the hole and see a way through. But complaining just to fill the time, just to vent, just to express irritation? That feels like a waste of my energy and my words.
Research shows we speak at least 7,000 words per day, with many of us using more. As much as I can, I want to use my communications to encourage and hearten the people around me and, in the process, enliven myself. I challenge you to consider this question - how are you using your words?