Why Grousing isn’t Good for You

The Glorious Twelfth of August is when guns start popping on the grouse moors, but those lovely game birds aren’t the kind of grouse I am talking about. I mean those little rumbles of discontent which surface with alarming frequency whenever Life or Other People don’t meet our exacting standards. ‘It isn’t fair,’ we cry, as though we were five years old still and hadn’t learned that life isn’t fair, nor is it meant to be — we are treated so much better than we deserve. ‘He/she is absolutely impossible,’ we mutter, conveniently forgetting our own impossibility in return. How many people have walked away from the Church, from marriage, from religious community simply because other Church/community members or their partner did not correspond to their ideas of what they should be?* And if we don’t walk away, how many of us instead allow the acid of carping and criticism to destroy, drip by deadly drip, what was meant to be good, holy and sustaining?

St Benedict was very severe about grumbling. He saw it as a corrosive in community life, and although he acknowledged that there were occasions when grumbling might be justifiable, he regarded them as few and exceptional. Unfortunately, we live in a society which regards grumbling as something we ought to do. We have our rights; we must allow no one to take us for a ride; we must criticize whatever we perceive to be wrong, even if we know very little about the matter. It is so much healthier to air our grievances, real or imaginary, or to draw attention to the failing of others rather than scrutinize our own.

The trouble with this kind of thinking is that it forgets something fundamental. The person who is always grumbling, whose dissatisfaction with everyone and everything is sometimes voiced, sometimes just under the surface, is someone who is closed to all that is good. The arteries of the heart can be clogged with bitterness just as surely as they can be clogged with fat. It isn’t ‘healthier’ to grumble. In fact, it can be downright dangerous, both to our health and to our happiness. In the end, the grumbler and grouser may find life every bit as lonely and disappointing as he/she imagined because no one will want to come near. We don’t start out like that, of course. Our grumbles are just occasional. But they can become habitual, and there is nothing sadder than the person who has grown old feasting on grievances.

* I know that there are many other reasons for marriage breakdown or leaving a religious community. I am merely highlighting one which is commoner than one would hope.


Authors with a Mortgage

Authors with a mortgage never get writer’s block. It is a luxury only those with an income equal to their outgoings can afford. I suspect there are other afflictions which we can indulge in only when we have the time, leisure or opportunity to do so. That is not to suggest that that the pain or difficulty they cause is unreal (I have my own weekly duel with writer’s block, so I wot whereof I speak), but the registering it, the allowing it to take centre stage, so to say, are acts within our control.

So here’s a challenge for today. What is your favourite whinge about? Is it a genuine grievance, such as Benedict meant when he talked about ‘justifiable murmuring’, or is it a covert form of self-indulgence, a little bit of armour we put on to defend ourselves against the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune? If you’re not sure, or unwilling to admit that it might just be a way of defending yourself against (unspoken) criticism or (as yet uncertain) failure, think again. The chains we make for ourselves are the ones that really bind.


Dyspeptic Dames

From time to time, and especially when I am feeling cold, discouraged, or just plain curmudgeonly, I allow myself a little grumble. Only a little grumble, you understand, and usually whispered into the ear of Bro Duncan. Grumbling changes nothing: it merely makes us and those close to us more wretched. (Bro Duncan, being a dog, allows nothing to interfere with his happiness unless one mentions baths or cuts off the supply of dog biscuits, so he is a safe audience for dyspeptic monologues.) Why do we all love to grumble? I used to think it had something to do with idealism and the quest for perfection; now I think it more likely that we simply love the sound of our own voices and believe it is somehow ‘unhealthy’ to restrain our negative thoughts and feelings. Benedict, as so often, seems to have been right: most grumbling is not justifiable and is corrosive of community. Advent isn’t usually seen as a time for giving up things, but I certainly intend to try harder to give up grumbling. Being nice to be near isn’t just a question of which soap one uses.


In Praise of the Salesians

There is much to say about my recent trip to the U.S.A. but there is a lot of catching up to do first, so this will be no more than a brief ‘I’m back’ kind of post.

For the New York part of my stay I enjoyed the hospitality of the Salesian Sisters at Haledon, New Jersey. They couldn’t have been kinder or more generous (though I did wonder briefly whether the large mug and copious quantities of tea bags on 4 July had some Deeper Significance). There were lots of good things I noticed about the Sisters but one struck me very forcibly. I never once heard any of them grumble about any of the other Sisters or speak testily to them. It may be that they already are saints; they certainly are living as saints. Community life isn’t always easy, as anyone who has tried it will tell you. Being thrown together with a group of people one hasn’t chosen and to whom one is not related by blood, each of whom is blessed with idiosyncracies and foibles one doesn’t necessarily share, can be taxing. All credit, then, to the Salesians for being so considerate of one another, not just the guests. St Benedict would have approved.