Monday, April 13, 2009

A Complaint Free World

A 21 Day Challenge toward a Complaint Free World

Will Bowen has a great idea. One may not be able to change others, but that is not going to stop anyone from changing him or herself. In “A Complaint Free World,” Bowen lays out a plan to help people stop complaining and to start enjoying life as it was meant to be. Structured as a challenge as well as a guide through four phases of the project, Bowen presents us a map to help people move from a state of “Unconscious Incompetence” to reach the “Unconscious Competence” state. The key is to move from an incompetent (complaining) attitude to one that is competent (non-complaining). Even better is to become a non-complaining person without us even knowing it. His premise is captured in the quote by Maya Angelou:
If you don’t like something, change it.
If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain.
” (Maya Angelou)

“Our thoughts create our lives and our words indicate what we are thinking.” (Will Bowen, New York: Doubleday, 2007, , p10)

The Idea
  1. First pledge not to complain, criticize or gossip verbally about anything. As long as it comes out of the mouth, it is considered a complaint.
  2. Wear a bracelet (or any tangible movement like moving a coin from one pocket to another, or switch your watch to the other wrist) to keep track of the complaints. Each time a complaint, criticism or gossip is muttered, switch the bracelet from one arm to the other. The moment this happens, you have to restart your day count.
  3. The objective is to do this for 21 consecutive days WITHOUT complaining. Each time
  4. Like many, you will probably realize that there will be a dramatic change in your attitude beginning with a significant drop in your complaining, criticizing and gossiping.
  5. Typically, most people complete the 21-day experiment between 4-8 months.

The four stages are:
I – Unconscious Incompetence
In this phase, Bowen addresses two major reasons why people should address the complaining attitude; namely keeping mental sanity and secondly for better physical health. The first reason is due to the erroneous way society places on complaining in order to get what they want. At the heart of each complaint, lies the feeling of grief-pain-discontent. Many companies set up booths that deal with ‘customer complaints,’ as if it is a very normal thing to do. The second reason why it is important to address this is a health reason. Making use of research findings in psychology, Bowen points out the negative impact on health that complaints bring. Robin Kowalski’s research reveals that people complain mainly to invoke sympathy from others. Moreover, nearly two-third of all illnesses have a psychological origin. In order to move to the next stage, one will need to become conscious of one’s tendency to complain.

II – Conscious Incompetence
A complaining attitude is a drag on relationships. In fact, choosing to complain is likened to a drug. It is addictive and feeds upon an environment of complaints. Relationships will become unhappy, worries more common and leads to a host of situations that fuel more complaints. It is important to wake up from this conundrum of whining and take action to change. Using the computer term GIGO (Garbage-In-Garbage-Out) as an example, what one puts in (complaining) will result in similar outputs.

III – Conscious Competence
A key way to address the complaining attitude is to adopt the language of silence. Bowen was often asked how he get things done without complaining. He gave an example on how he handle a telemarketing nuisance call. He called the hotline and shared the following
“Instead, I called again and said to the customer-service person, ‘I know mistakes happen, and I know this isn’t your fault. I’m committed to not getting these calls from your company anymore and am willing to work with you until we find the challenge and fix it together.’ Within ten minutes, she had found the issue… and the calls ceased.” (96)
As I think about it, it is indeed a helpful way to resolve problems. Instead of berating the other poor soul on the other side of the line, we can treat the other person as a human person, another one who is simply working to make ends meet. In controlling any rage in ourselves and start behaving more considerately, we can help bring positive change in this world.

Bowen suggests the following change of vocabulary and language.
- Not “Have to” but “Get to”
- Not “Setback” but “Challenge”
- Not “Enemy” but “Friend”
- Not “Tormentor” but “Teacher”
- Not “Pain” but “Signal”
- Not “I demand” but “I Would Appreciate”
- Not “Complaint” but “Request”
- Not “Struggle” but “Journey”
- Not “You did this” but “I created this”

The point is the language we use reflects our intention. This world is better off with one more ‘supporter’ and one less critic of human beings. When one determines to become a supporter instead of a critic or complainer, one is on the way toward the final stage: The Unconscious Competent.

IV – Unconscious Competence
Philippians 2:4 says it clearly to do everything without complaining. When this happens, one learns better to adapt to the environment rather than to force one’s expectations on society at large. Not only will one be happier inside, one can influence change outside to bring about positive behaviour in others. The first beneficiary is the family. Bowen quotes Gary Zukav who says: “Complaining is a Form of Manipulation.

My Comments
This 21-day experiment is worth a try. Although Will Bowen is of a theological orientation that I do not subscribe to, this Complaint-Free idea is something that I feel is worth supporting, mainly because it helps reduce the complaining tendency in this culture. Bowen is a Unitarian minister, who does not believe in the Trinity doctrine. Moreover, there is also a New Age flavour in his theology. Some of his deep seated ideas come from such a philosophy that sees the good in mankind available to all persons. The book appears to be written for a secular audience and thus is emptied of many religious connotations. That partially explains the book’s wider audience of acceptance. I will suggest that evangelicals substitute their motive for not-complaining to one that is consciously aware that one lives for the glory of God, and to cultivate a thankful spirit from within. This ability to do good is not sustainable on our own. We can only be sustained by Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit.

The book, “A Complaint Free World” is an easy read, with interesting ideas. However, replace the motive for not-complaining with one that is God-glorifying. That way, we can become salt and light to the world, not only for 21-days but for all eternity.



will said...

Hi, I'm will Bowen.

This was an excellent discourse on the Complaint Free movement and my book. Thank you for helping us spread the message!

Rosie Perera said...

Good food for thought. Some of us do complain too much. On the other hand, there's a movement afoot that has come up with another way to deal with this universal human reality. It's called the "complaints choir." There's actually an organization called Complaints Choirs of the World, which tracks these musical groups (there's even one in Vancouver). The history page on that site tells how it got started, but the basic idea is to let people vent in a humorous and socially acceptable way. It performs much the same function as the lament psalm in ancient Hebrew liturgy, the communal sorrow of an African American Spiritual, or the catharsis of a Greek chorus. It is in healthy to express these things rather than to bury them. Yes, we do tend to turn to complaint automatically about things that we can change rather than doing something about it, and I like Bowen's idea that if we can't change something at least we can change our attitude. But I don't think it is theologically balanced to always squelch the natural outcry against something unfair or miserable that has been done to us (or to someone weaker than us who has no public voice), over which we have no control.

Becoming a Pollyanna or a Dr. Pangloss is not the answer to too much complaining in the world. There are indeed injustices that should be complained about. If we don't raise a hue and cry when necessary, we are being doormats.

Several years ago, there was a bus strike in Vancouver that lasted several months, and very few Vancouverites were willing to complain about it. It's Canadians' nature to not get hot under the collar about anything (unlike us Americans). They just shrugged and said, "Oh well, I guess we'll find some other way to get to work/school." And so, City Hall had no motivation to negotiate to solve the strike situation, because nobody (well very few) was irked enough by it to make a stink. And so it went on and on and on, to the point of being ridiculous. There are times when it is right to complain.

YAPdates said...

Thanks for your comments. I would have to agree with you on your last point. However, I would not categorize the right response in the same bucket as the 'complaining attitude' expressed in the Complaint-Free-World movement.

The irony of life is that sometimes, 'complaints' are necessary to improve quality of life, or for that matter, to get things done. Maybe, it will be useful to use another term to describe such an action. Protest? Speak out against injustice? Feedback mechanisms? I'm open for suggestions.


Sunshine said...

I shall take up this challenge :) Thank you for sharing this.

ymuga said...

Hi Conrade
Your discourse on the Complaint Free Movement book is really good. Appreciate your advice to stop complaining so as to honour God. Thanks, Ymuga

YAPdates said...

Sunshine and yumaga,
Thank you for your kind comments. Hope that you find the posting helpful. Peace.


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