A recent study suggests that people bond more securely over shared dislikes than over mutual enthusiasms. Spouses will apparently attach more closely over a common hatred for hip-hop than over a shared love for Mozart. It’s the old, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” approach to relationships.
It seems easier for us – more in line with human nature, perhaps – to gripe about what we dislike than to praise what we like. And in the age of social media, with its opportunities for instant expression, we can virtually congregate with people (called “friends”) who hate what we hate and oppose (at least verbally) what we oppose.
Americans are becoming positively tribal, but its tribes are not like those of the past. They do not share a tradition or history or even a common taste. They share a common distaste. This is especially apparent in politics. Conservatives have fewer things in common than they did in the past. What unites them now is their hatred of progressives. Progressives bond over their repugnance for conservatives. It’s not a shared vision but a shared aversion that increasingly unites groups.
Because our “friends” are people who share our hostility, we have a strong incentive to remain hostile. We may say that we want our cause to triumph, but we know that when it does, our “friends” will disappear. We find ourselves in the unenviable position of needing the things we despise while doing without the things we love. And so we raise a cup of bile to our common enemy, and give a curse rather than a toast.
It’s a sick way to live. Grumbling is a leprosy knowingly transmitted between people, and some social groupings are little more than leprosariums, filled with complainers with rotting souls. Grumbling is so contagious that only those with strong spiritual immune systems can be exposed without being infected.
But might it not sometimes be necessary to complain in order to get a problem fixed? That all depends. Bringing a complaint to your congressman (or boss or pastor) can be an appropriate way to begin addressing a problem. Griping to and with your “friends” about it is not. The rule of thumb is this: only complain to people who are in a position to do something about the problem. Otherwise, you are the problem.
What is causing all this grumbling? There are many contributing factors, both sociological and technological, but a significant one is found in the pervasive idea that an individual deserves to get his way. It is a part of the American credo: “I believe in my right to have my own way.”
What do people do when this sacred right is violated? They whine. If no one listens, they scream. And often, others around them join in.
After college, my first job – I, who knew nothing about children – was to manage a day care and nursery school. Sometimes I would hear a toddler outside my office begin screaming, either because he was hurt or because he didn’t get his way, and a group of other screamers would join in. What is currently happening in society, sometimes at the highest levels, looks a whole lot like that nursery.
Ecclesiastical leaders have warned that this infection poses a threat to the church. Christians, commissioned to take the good news of Jesus Christ to the world, are in danger of bringing the bad news of self-interest, transmissible through complaining, into the church.
Christians, however, have a ready vaccine for this disease, which might be called “Persistent Self-Interest Disorder” (or PSID for short). It works prophylactically (to prevent) and therapeutically (to heal) PSID. St. Paul says: “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
To do something in Jesus’s name is to do it as his representative. Can you complain as his representative? If so, complain. Will a Facebook post or Tweet speak for Jesus? If so, post and tweet away. But if you can’t say what you want to say (or scream what you want to scream) as a representative of Jesus, you’d better not say it at all. You might infect someone.
First published as “Grumbling: A Disease Knowingly Transmitted” in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 3/4/2017