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.