“Don’t wait for people to be friendly. Show them how.” ~Unknown
When I was a teenager, right around the time I knew everything, my mother used to tell me I only remembered the bad things.
When I told stories about my family, they didn’t revolve around family beach trips, barbecues, and vacations; they focused on painful memories and all the ways I felt my mother had “ruined my life.”
The same applied to friends and milestones in my life. I chronically remembered and rehashed the worst experiences.
In fact, straight through college I followed up every introductory handshake with a dramatic retelling of my life story, focusing on a laundry list of grievances about people who had done me wrong.
It was as if I was competing for most royally screwed over in life, like there was some kind of prize for being the most tragic and victimized. (Full disclosure: I hoped that prize was compassion and unconditional love. It was more like discomfort and avoidance).
Not everyone is as negative or needy as woe-is-me-younger Lori was, but I’ve noticed that many of us have something in common with my misguided past self: We focus on how we’ve been hurt far more than how we’ve been helped.
Psychologists suggest that to some degree we complain because we’re looking to connect with people who can relate to the universal struggles we all face (though in some cases, complaining is a constructive way to find solutions to problems as opposed to a chronic need to vent negativity). I think there’s more to it, though.
When we complain about everything that’s gone wrong or everyone who has done us wrong, we’re drowning in our self-involvement.
It’s an epidemic in an individualistic culture where self-reliance, autonomy, and the pursuit of personal gain can leave us feeling isolated and pressured to succeed. This may not be true for everyone, but I know when I get caught up complaining, nine out of ten times what I need to do is stop obsessing about the circumstances of my life.
It’s taken me a long time, but I’ve learned we don’t need to live life in a constant state of reaction to things that seem difficult or unfair. We don’t have to be the victims of bad coming at us. Our lives don’t have to be the sum of our problems—not if we take responsibility for putting good into the world.
That starts by fostering a greater appreciation for our interdependence. We are not alone. The world is not against us, and we don’t have to be against each other. We don’t have to let our fears, insecurities, and wants boil over inside us until we’re all a bunch of incompatible toxic chemicals waiting to explode the second we collide. Read More