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 trivializes 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.
The condemnation of complaining is not unique to America. Dictatorships around the world are famous for self-reported statistics of sky-high happiness. In Uzbekistan, a state run on surveillance, corruption, and torture, 95 percent of the country is said to be content. Last August, one of the openly unhappy 5 percent, a 73-year-old man, filed a complaint about police brutality with neighborhood officials. They arrested him for violating a ban on filing complaints.
The absence of complaining should be taken as a sign that something is rotting in a society. Complaining is beautiful. Complaining should be encouraged. Complaining means you have a chance.