Complaining Can Be Contagious

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”     – William Shakespeare

With the cooler weather coming on, flu season is fast approaching and many people are looking to get their annual shot to ward off potential illness. As terrible as this viral infection might be, there is a much more insidious bug out there and, unfortunately, there is no vaccination to prevent its spread. This virus does not threaten our physical health, but is no less damaging to our general well-being.

I am referring to the contagious effects of being in the company of complainers. Spend enough time with these folks and a case of the grumbles is sure to follow. Symptoms often include: excessive whining, pouting, negative head shaking, tunnel vision, agitation, angry outbursts and even weepiness.

Complainers tend to be an unhappy lot who focus on the shortcomings of every situation. They find fault when none exists and can suck the joy out of a room faster than a Hoover vacuum cleaner.

I have seen the effects inflicted by compulsive complainers, particularly on the young. Several years ago I accompanied a group of students and a few adults on a trip to Italy. We arrived in Naples after a full day of sightseeing and a long bus ride through some treacherous mountainous terrain. We were hungry and we were tired. (Conditioners suitable to promote snivelling.) When a less-than-appetizing meal was placed before us, the grumblings began almost immediately and grew from there.

Later, when we checked into our assigned rooms, the rumblings turned into some very vocal carping and even tears (mostly by the adults) which spread like wildfire among the group members. Soon almost everyone was decrying the terrible accommodations which they would have to endure for one, entire night! The interesting thing was that some of the students didn’t realize that they should be upset until the complainers told them so. This was the contagious power of complaining!

There’s no denying that the rooms did not live up to the standards that we have become accustomed to in Canada, and it was also true that the rooms were sorely in need of upgrading, and even a thorough cleaning. However, at one time this hotel must have been very grand and the location could not have been better. Since we didn’t have much choice, we would have to make the best of the situation. But the whiners wouldn’t let it go (again, mainly some adults) and carried on to the point where a full-scale meltdown seemed imminent.

I managed to gather a group of the least upset students around me and gave a little speech which went something like this: Look! I know you’re upset about your rooms, but you can make a choice. You can focus on your poor accommodations and let that define your trip, or you can focus on the fact that in the morning when you look out your window, you will be gazing at the beautiful Bay of Naples. When will anyone of us have such an opportunity again?”

I’m glad to say that most of the students decided to look on the positive side of the situation, and their attitude changed significantly after that.

The next morning I wandered down the pier just outside our hotel, watched the local fishermen bring in the catch of the day, and soaked in the ambience of that remarkable place. Meanwhile, the hardcore complainers sat on the bus grumbling, refusing to let their disappointment abate, thereby missing out on one of the most beautiful sights of the entire trip.

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