Against "act, don't complain"

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When I was a kid, I had decided that complaining was silly and wrong. "You can either take action, or ask for concrete things from people who can give those things. The end."

Practically, if anybody was mean to me, I'd run away. And I felt that everybody else must do the same. Don't protest, don't send angry letters, don't shout (god, never shout — it's barbaric). Just run away.

I will illustrate with several examples.


Example #1

When I was super libertarian, I'd have endless arguments with my dad:

Dad: "Okay, what do you do if someone mistreats you?"
Me: "I sue them"
Dad: "Imagine it's the government"
Me: "I move to another country"

Later I figured out that there were good reasons why people couldn't move to different countries on a whim, but I still felt it was somehow wrong to complain/protest/etc about anything, and I never figured out why exactly.

Example #2

Sometimes my whole family would go to a restaurant. Something would be wrong, and my mom would ask for the "book of complaints" (every public place here is mandated to have one) and file a complaint.

Both me and my sister were always angry and embarrassed with her. "C'mon, let's just go away and never come back, why do you have to file a complaint, what's the point." I felt like my mom was feeling righteous about leaving a complaint, and this, again, felt very wrong. Mean. Primitive.

Example #3

When I was maybe 15, there was a year when parents were fighting all the time.

Mom: [crying] "You have an affair with a girl from work, admit it"
Dad: "C'mon, why'd you think that"
Mom: "I know you do"
Dad: "But why'd you think that"

It went in circles, endlessly. What I got out of it was that dad was 100% right and mum was 100% wrong. If you have no evidence, you don't have a right to be angry. Either ask politely, or say nothing, or run away. You can always run away.

I had decided that of my life goals should be to Not Be Like My Mom. (By the way, this is a good pattern to notice: when you are putting effort into not being like somebody else, this means you have found a piece of your shadow.)

Example #4

When I felt that my girlfriend was less affectionate than I was, I went through chat logs for the past several months and counted how many times each of us had said "I love you". It was 15 for me and 2 for her.

Me: "Look, here's the data"
Her: "Okay, I see"
Me: "Can you say 'I love you' more often? It's really upsetting that you don't."
Her: "I'll try"

It was a pretty miserable relationship sometimes. When it ended (she dumped me), I spent the next several years convinced she was great and I was a shit.

Example #5: politics

There are people who "don't talk about politics". They actually do, but only to say that someone's tactics or arguments are stupid, and that an issue is more complex than it seems.

I am one of those people. A lot of what happens in politics looks like "filing a complaint" to me — to bystanders, to your friends, to the press, to the government, to society at large. Protests are complaints. And I am uncomfortable with it. I can't with a straight face tell people "Regardless of the severity of the issue, the most important thing is to look reasonable", but I want to.

This might also be the angle from which the famous "guys offer solutions instead of support" trope could be understood. If you are taught that complaining is bad — as guys might often be — then every request gets treated as a request for advice instead of a complaint. "I'm not gonna assume you actually meant to complain — I think you are good [that is, above complaining]. You probably meant to ask for advice. Here you go, I'll give you advice and you'll apply it and we both will be good people."

How is complaining good?

[adapting the world to your needs instead of yelling at the world]

seems alright except of two things:
- yelling is sometimes a way to recognise your needs, and
- yelling is sometimes a way to influence the world

— @staenrey

There are several reasons why feeling like "complaining is not allowed" might worsen freedom/agency in the long run.

First of all: you want to complain. You want to be angry. By deciding that being angry is never okay, you are training yourself that "whatever seems silly to me is not okay", and you will apply this principle to other things as well, and you will be miserable.

Another thing is that complaining is training your own taste, as I have described in Judge everyone and everything. Every complaint is an opportunity to figure out what you like or dislike. By repressing the complaints, you don't let yourself figure that out.

Finally, other people might care about you and might silently do things that will make your life easier. If you don't complain, they'll never find out that your life could be better.