In an America built on the reinvention of reality, critical words make people uneasy – and so do those who speak them. In 1996, Alan Greenspan famously chided the financial community for “irrational exuberance”. They ignored him, and America became a bubble economy – housing, credit, technology, higher education. Those who warned of collapse were derided and dismissed: they were only complaining.
When the bubbles popped, and the jobs disappeared, and the debt soared, and the desperation hit, Americans were told to stay positive. Stop complaining – things will not be like this forever. Stop complaining – this is the way things have always been. Complainers suffer the cruel imperatives of optimism: lighten up, suck it up, chin up, buck up. In other words: shut up.
The surest way to keep a problem from being solved is to deny that problem exists. Telling people not to complain is a way of keeping social issues from being addressed. It trivialises the grievances of the vulnerable, making the burdened feel like burdens. Telling people not to complain is an act of power, a way of asserting that one’s position is more important than another one’s pain. People who say “stop complaining” always have the right to stop listening. But those who complain have often been denied the right to speak.
Read the full article, In Defense of Complaining, at Al Jazeera English.