You Have A Duty To Complain, Here’s Why

Drew Stegmaier
a Few Words
Published in
3 min readOct 4, 2020

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That’s right, you have a moral obligation to complain. You don’t have to complain all the time. But you should complain some of the time. Before digging into when to complain or when to hold back, we need to take a few steps back and understand why we get upset, and what our menu options are once we feel upset.

We often base our internal feelings on external events. This stems from our Circle of Concern versus our Circle of Control.

image in the public domain

As we allow more external things into our circle of concern, our happiness tends to decrease. We are taking the bucket of things that potentially upset us and putting things in it. Avoid that as best as you can. It isn’t a light switch, it’s more like an escalator going down that you have to run up. It will take time to get to the top, and if you stop moving you’ll go backward.

We aren’t here to talk about how to manage your circle. If you’re curious about that you can read Life As A Resource Allocation Problem. We aren’t all bodhisattvas all the time. Inevitably, at some point, we will get upset. There’s no point pretending you won’t get upset. High performers don’t face less setbacks than mediocre ones. Instead, they train for those moments when things don’t go their own way. We must do the same in the world of complaining.

The argument for complaining

Complaints stem from unhappiness. Someone did something that didn't go the way we wanted or expected it to. In these moments, we face a choice. Once we get upset based on someone else’s behavior, we can:

  1. Request that they change the behavior.
  2. Acknowledge our present feeling, accept it, and then move on.
  3. Be bitter.

Option three is obviously the worst, and yet so many people choose it. I’ve yet to see someone make this choice consciously. Usually it slips in unintentionally and we go with it. Skip it. Option two is possible but difficult at first. Remember, once you’re upset you’re already in reactive mode and you can’t backpedal. This works great for things that don’t demand your immediate attention, like an email. Even urgent emails give you a few minutes to gather yourself. Option one is best for immediate cases, like when someone directly asks you if you’re happy and you aren’t.

Allowing someone else to change their behavior gives them an opportunity to rectify things and make you feel better. If you deprive them of the opportunity, it is your fault, not theirs.

This isn’t a license to be an asshole. How you complain is a topic for a different day. Think of it as advocating for yourself rather than being a tyrant. This also doesn’t address situations involving repeated offenses. We will tackle those later, stay tuned. For now, good luck as you practice the art of complaining.

Happy complaining! 🤗

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