The Complaint Department
For those of you unfamiliar with the verb ‘kvetching’, I think it’s best defined as bitching in whine. Though it’s a Yiddish word, it’s derivative is really irrelevant for we all do it. I would suggest that it’s yet another aspect of the human experience, but I honestly think other species kvetch too. Yesterday a flock of Canadian geese were heading who-knows-where, and clearly there were quite a few issues being addressed en route. They sounded pretty much like this:
“Who died and put Louie in charge? Didn’t we all agree I was going to take the lead this time?”
“I am SO tired and not in the mood for a field trip right now.”
“Why do always have to wait for Marge? We could have been there and back by now. She flies like a turtle creeps.” (you never know, geese may watch the Animal Planet too)
“Why are we going this way? The traffic is terrible..”
“I hate flying in a vee. Does anyone else hate flying in a vee?”
And so on. They’re loud, sound very irritated and undoubtedly have a few young ones in the group repeatedly asking “are we there yet?”
Kvetching is a side benefit of people sharing their day-to-day lives. On your way to work you know that once you arrive, there will be others who will moan that they don’t want to be there either, understand your need for a second cup of coffee, appreciate how much work is on your plate (though arguably, if a lot of work is on your plate you really shouldn’t have that much time to kvetch about it), shake their heads when you mention the idiotic comment your boss made, etc. People at my old firm used to complain about the absence of fresh fruit on doughnut day (we had bagels and doughnuts every Friday morning), even though no one was required to eat anything at all and the food was free. Later, when fresh fruit was provided, the group kvetch reverted to the quality of the bagels. Group sigh…
Parent groups, coffee room confabs, team meetings – kvetching goes on everywhere. It crosses gender, age, ethnicity – and as I mentioned above – maybe species too. On some levels, complaining is cathartic for one can get an irritant out in the open and be met with empathy and agreement. That said, sometimes you do meet the person who responds to your comment about a ‘lousy headache’ with “You think you have a headache? I’ve got a migraine”. This is the kind of person who has to trump your kvetch with a kvetch squared. These people defeat the purpose of a good whine. For the most part though, a little whine and sympathy feels good.
A word of caution – all of this requires perspective and some semblance of self-control, for such conversations can easily derail and become dangerous to one’s spirit. Where is the line? At the place where kvetches turn chronic, complaints turn into gossip and vitriol replaces feelings of mild irritation. Gossip is toxic and serves no purpose but to inject distrust and ensure the participants that they too will be the unpleasant topic of conversation sometime in the karmic future. Gossip is conjecture that is offered as fact. Where kvetching can be benign, gossip is malignant. Ironically, it’s so easy to stop – requiring the simple phrase “I don’t want to hear it”. A bit naive on my part I realize, for curiousity usually interferes with our desire to take the higher ground. Sometimes though, I think we have to just reinforce our boundaries and despite the lure of a sensational story, stick to a kinder authority.
When one of my dearest friends was alive, she used to call me and when necessary, preface our conversation with “Hi sweets, this is a kvetch call”. And I would listen to her gripe of the moment, share the indignation du jour and she in turn provided me with the same forum. The most cherished element of the memory though is how we laughed when we were done. You have to hold on to a bit of humor when you feel a good kvetch coming on, for in the incomprehensible hugeness of the universe, there are bigger injustices than stale bagels.