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Communicating or Complaining?

Written by Paul Wolf

Does kvetching get a bad rap?  Whining may not be a bad thing. Bev Bender of San Francisco complained incessantly about a pain in her hip.

She kvetched to friends. Together, they kvetched about all the doctors who dismissed it as a meaningless symptom of middle age and a few pounds too many.

Then an acquaintance suggested that the problem might be arthritis. That person was right. Bender found a low-impact aqua-aerobics class that eased the pain.

"I'm convinced all my kvetching helped me find a solution," she says.

Like so many Yiddish words, kvetching is rich with connotations. The cliché kvetcher is one who rattles on endlessly, generally to the consternation of others. At it's best, however, kvetching is more than just venting. It's sharing a truth about oneself, and bonding with others because of it.

In a society that prizes perpetual optimism and an attitude that all battles can be won, kvetching becomes a way to access our deepest feelings, getting our fears and concerns out in the open.

Barbara Held, author of Stop Smiling, Start Kvetching: A 5-Step Guide to Creative Complaining, thinks people need to celebrate life's tribulations. "Life's hard," Held writes. "But that's not our real problem. Our real problem is the pressure to pretend that life is not hard."

Kvetching makes you realistic about your circumstances. When things go poorly, you get upset; when things go well, you're prepared for the bad news that may be around the corner. Uncertainty is the basis for all kvetching, says Held.

Bottling your true feelings increases your chances of blowing up at an inappropriate time, according to cognitive therapist Kathleen Burton. Kvetching runs counter to repressing negative feelings.

Bender, whose hip is far better these days, understands the subtle art of kvetching: Respect your audience. You don't want to drive your friends away or lose your sense of humor. "I am the kind of person who will call a friend and say, 'Can I tell you my problems for the next five minutes?' I figure if they're a good friend, it will be all right with them."

Get Real, Kvetch a Little

Held offers the following suggestions for being a creative kvetcher:

Retain your right to kvetch.
Kvetching doesn't stop you from appreciating the good things in life. It just means you aren't appreciating them right now. When you are willing to utter those blasphemous words, "I hate life," you may be more willing to admit "I love life" at a later date.

Put it in perspective.
"Gangrene is worse than a hangnail; not getting into any graduate school is worse than not knowing which graduate school offer to accept," Held writes.

Know your audience.
There's a fine line between kvetching and whining. If your audience is rolling their eyes, changing the subject or dismissing you with a "cheer up," you may be in danger of being a chronic complainer.

Don't one-up fellow kvetchers.
There's enough misery to go around, so respect the misery of others. If you want your complaints heard, you've got to be a good listener too.

Use kvetching to solve problems.
Is "unwarranted optimism" the best state of mind for solving problems? Absolutely not, says Held. Get constructive with your kvetching and you'll find faster solutions.

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