My Big Book of Grievances

Yeah, I’m a complainer. I know it’s bad, and I know it’s wrong. I keep going on and on about being a person motivated by gratitude and about counting blessings – and I think I do that most of the time. But the walking contradiction that is me also finds it so easy to slip into complaining mode. I blame it on a particular gene in my family that comes down to me through my paternal grandmother – sorry Nonna, but you know it’s true (she’s watching EWTN in heaven now, so it’s ok). So much for my confession… before I start complaining about complaining… you can read more about that in Spiritual Blueprint.

I remember an episode of Friends in which a neighbor dies, and since he had no relatives, the six friends have to go through his belongings. One of the things they find is a large notebook titled, “My Big Book of Grievances,” listing all of his pet peeves. So I thought I would share some of my grievances, in a narcissistic attempt at some sort of catharsis (isn’t that what a blog is for anyway?).

I hate when people tell me there’s bad weather coming. I know they think they’re trying to be helpful or something, but I just don’t want to hear it. I’ll find out what the weather will be like when it comes. I’ll find out that it’s going to rain when I’m wet. Oh, sure, I know what you’re going to say. If someone warns me, I can bring an umbrella. But I’ll tell you the truth: if you tell me it’s going to rain, I will NOT bring an umbrella, if only as an act of defiance.

I hate when people use the Greek letter sigma (∑) as an “E” when they’re trying to make something look Greek. I’m not Greek, but if I was, I would be offended by that.

I hate when people refuse to believe I’m not Greek. Not that there’s anything wrong with being Greek. Some of my best friends are Greek – literally. And bless their Mediterranean hearts, they want me to be Greek. But I’m Italian, dammit. I eat ravioli on all the major holidays – what more proof do you need?

I hate when the waiter takes my not-yet-empty glass of diet coke to refill it. No dude, I want to drink the last of it while you’re getting the next glass, and I don’t care if it uses up another glass, because I don’t want to risk being left without anything to drink while I’m eating.

I hate when the waiter brings me a styrofoam box and expects me to put my own leftovers in it. Take the plate away and put it in a box out of my sight – then bring me the box. Have a little class.

Finally, I hate gum. Gum is the biggest scam in the world. You pay for the privilege of having a hint of flavor for three seconds, then the flavor’s gone, and then you’re stuck with what tastes like that first hunk of rubber that comes off an old pair of tennis shoes.

OK, that’s enough for now. Maybe I’ll share some more of my grievances another time (yes, I have more of them).

But here’s the thing… as I was writing this, I wondered if I should really use the word “hate.” It sounds so… intolerant. And who wants to be thought of as intolerant? Don’t we have this assumption that tolerance is good, and intolerance is bad? In fact, I know some people who are so tolerant, the only thing they can’t tolerate is intolerance.

But I still believe that some things are bad. Some things deserve to be criticized. In fact some things are downright wrong. Of course, there are the obvious things, like racism, anti-semitism, or any kind of hatred or discrimination based on a person’s identity. But there are also other evils, like not using your directionals when you turn or change lanes, or gratuitous key changes at the end of love songs.

So how do you maintain a tolerance of the diversity of people while reserving the right to critique their behavior? I mean, let’s be realistic, we do critique people’s behavior every time we put someone in jail for committing a crime. But Jesus said, “Do not judge, so that you will not be judged.” (Matthew 7:1-2, see also Luke 6:37). I think what Jesus meant is that we are not to take it upon ourselves to judge another person’s eternal destiny. In other words, we cannot look at someone and determine whether or not that person is “going to heaven.” That’s God’s job. God alone is the judge, and that’s between the individual and his/her higher power. In fact, I would say that judgmentalism is really just living in denial about our own sins and imperfections, since we somehow assume God should not forgive others when God has forgiven us so much. And so we come full circle to gratitude. We should be so grateful for God’s forgiveness that we’re willing to cut everyone else a lot of slack.

So on the one hand, there are some absolutes – there are some things that are always wrong. (Anyone who claims there are no absolutes is contradicting themselves by making an absolute statement – saying there are absolutely no absolutes.) But on the other hand, I really do want to be a “live and let live” kind of person, not begrudging anyone their pursuit of happiness. So I guess this is another case of “the truth is in the middle.”

Where’s the balance? Is it really as simple as hate the sin and love the sinner? No, it’s not, because we can’t always agree on what behavior constitutes sin. I just keep falling back on gratitude. If we’re doing it right, we should be letting our gratitude for all we have compel us to show mercy and compassion. Like Jesus’ parable of the Unmerciful Servant (Matthew 18:21-35), the moral of the story is that we risk forfeiting our own forgiveness if we refuse to forgive others (see also Matthew 6:14-15). Somehow our willingness (or unwillingness) to forgive others is connected to God’s forgiveness of us, in a mysterious kind of chicken-and-egg relationship. But in spite of the mystery, one thing is clear: refusing to forgive others is itself a sin that needs to be forgiven.

I don’t think I’ll be able to stop complaining completely. After all, it’s genetic, right? Part of who I am… So ironically, if you want to call yourself tolerant, you have to tolerate my intolerance. But maybe I can try to limit my complaining to inanimate objects or circumstances, and avoid blaming or criticizing people. Maybe my version of “hate the sin and love the sinner” will be something like, “grumble about the situation but give the people a break.” Let’s make a pact to give each other a break, and even look for the best in each other, in spite of the ways we annoy each other.

Jim Papandrea

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About Jim Papandrea

Jim Papandrea is an author, educator, and singer/songwriter. Visit his website at:
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4 Responses to My Big Book of Grievances

  1. kim barrio says:

    I read Fr Pat’s book on the way of forgiveness, I guess my real struggle is forgiving people who aren’t sorry. If you back over the neighbor’s mailbox once, okay. But when you do it 30 times, the mailbox starts to take it personally.
    I gave up complaining for Lent once. It was tough but good for me. And I’m an optomist! You can complain to me anytime. I’m good for it 🙂

  2. Yeah, Fr. Brennan is the expert on forgiveness. I once went into his office and set down on the table a list of people I was having trouble forgiving. And he really did help me with it. I think ultimately it doesn’t matter whether the person is sorry. We forgive because it’s the right thing to do, not because they deserve it. We do it for our relationship with God more than for our relationship with the other person. Someone once said that refusing to forgive is like trying to kill the person you’re mad at my drinking the poison yourself. I think that’s true. – JP

    • Kim Barrio says:

      plus you can forgive and not reconcile. at least if the reconciliation puts you in harms way. stuff from childhood, now that’s hard to reconcile. hmm…if we are forgiven by how we forgive others, not reconciling seems un-Christ-like. I am not sure.

      • Yeah, sometimes dealing with the issue directly with the person (whether that means reconciliation or confrontation) is not productive. It depends on the situation. Sometimes an attempt at reconciliation does more harm than good.

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