Quit Your Whining

I wish I had a video of my interactions with other people, and I’m glad I don’t.

Like a golfer trying to change her swing, there’s no substitute for seeing yourself on TV executing that poor swing.

However, it can be a soul-crushing experience to see how far off the mark you are.

I suspect that a majority of the political conversations I’ve overheard, or in which I’ve been a participant, would sound to a passive observer like a pity party. We do a lot of complaining about the way things are, the failures of our allies, the triumphs of our opponents and the general decline of society.

Basically, we do a lot of whining.

If you’re a parent, you know the sound of this. I recall talking to my own young children about this habit. “Instead of complaining about what you don’t have,“ I’d tell them, “why don’t you ask Dad for what you want?” They rarely seemed to get the message. For some reason, complaining seemed more satisfying than removing the cause of the complaint.

This behavior is not reserved for children. Adults do it too. I do. You do. We don’t like to call it whining when we do it, but when you’re complaining about the state of the world, about other people’s words or actions, or about your own sorry condition, you’re whining.

As you know, the WinSome strategy is a play on words. To win some people to your cause, you must be winsome. A winsome person has an attractive personality. People want to be around you. Winsome people are winners who win friends. They’re not whiners. So a core tenet of the WinSome strategy must be “quit your whining.”

“So,” Scott Ott, “if we can’t complain about our circumstances, or the state of our republic anymore, what can we do?”

Glad you asked. Instead of whining, we winsome ones address the real cause of our complaint. Practitioners of the WinSome strategy cultivate our God-given gift for changing people’s perspectives about circumstances. We light the way to opportunity, minimize the obstacles, or find a way around them.

I have a dear friend of long standing who has a fascinating trait. When you mention a problem that concerns him and ask him directly, “What should we do about it?” Instead of proposing solutions, he will go deeper into what’s wrong with the current situation, and sharpen his attack on those whom he blames for these terrible circumstances. Even if you follow up and ask, “Yes, but what shall we do about it?” he seems congenitally-incapable of proposing a way out of the present pickle.

I’m all in favor of an accurate diagnosis that pinpoints cause and effect. However, I would fire a physician who took it no further. I need a prescription. Even if it seems hopeless, we must try something. If there is absolutely no possible solution, then what I have isn’t a problem, it’s a fact of life. Problems have solutions. Facts of life must be borne with. Complaining about them does little but depress me and those around me.

That’s not who we are. We have a vision for a better future that goes far beyond a mere critique of the current situation.

WinSome strategists replace whining with winning. We catch ourselves about to complain and we redirect that energy into proposing a positive solution.

I used to work with a small business owner who told his staff that he hired people to solve problems. When we came to him with a problem, he’d throw it back at us and say, “What should we do about it?” If we failed to propose a solution, he’d say, “If I knew how to solve my own problems, I would not have hired you.”

People have enough problems already. Their backs sag under the burden. They don’t need us to bring them new ones. On the other hand, people are drawn to those who have solutions.

To the Rescue!

Years ago, I lived in a small town in Pennsylvania that, like many, suffered from economic shifts that marginalized the once-thriving downtown. Stores closed as retail traffic dwindled and nothing appeared to replace the vacant spaces. Many locals complained about it. The town had so  many apparently-intractable problems it seemed we could do little more than complain. Then along came some really depressing news. The old historic Embassy Theatre on the town square would be sold at auction six weeks hence by the heirs of the longtime owner. It would almost certainly be torn down to make room for a parking lot.

After talking with a couple of concerned locals, we quickly formed an organization called “Friends of the Embassy Theatre,” rented a post office box, and began raising money to rescue, renovate and run the theatre as a community cultural center. Our little flicker of hope, started by just four people, generated newspaper articles, radio and TV reports, and free advertising sponsored by local businesses. However, the local banks were not willing to risk financing the uncertain venture.

Yet my daily visits to the P.O. box, little by little, began to bear fruit. People came out of the woodwork to support the effort. Along with checks, and five dollar bills, they sent us nostalgic notes about what the theatre meant to them. “My wife and I sat in the balcony at the Embassy on our first date,” was a common story. As the tide swelled, one bank president finally committed to sponsoring a large ad in the newspaper, and then talked to his counterparts at the other local banks. Eventually a syndicate of six banks agreed to participate in the funding.

On the day of the auction, a large crowd gathered in front of the theatre, scattering other potential bidders who didn’t want to become local villains. But even though we were the only remaining bidder, the heirs said they needed more money than we had. Our board members went into the theatre to negotiate with the owners. They emerged only to inform the crowd that the effort to save the Embassy had come up short by several thousand dollars. Friends of the Embassy Theatre had failed.

Then, something almost magical happened. People in the crowd, most of whom had already contributed to the effort, began groping in their pockets. Making their way to the front, they placed dollar bills, fives, tens and twenties, on the auctioneer’s stand. Little children clutching coins came too. After a short while, our treasurer announced we had raised enough to purchase the theatre.

I think about that experience from time to time, and I’m convinced that people were tired of whining, They wanted something concrete and practical that they could actually do to make a difference for the town they loved…even if that action was merely to write a check for $10.

When we whine about the sad state of affairs, we heap burdens on people who are burdened enough already. But when we cast a vision for a better future and take action, even in small ways, to move toward that future, it draws people to us and to the cause that animates us.

Quit your whining. It’s not winsome.

Action spurs attraction, and is often the only antidote.