Years ago, a family joined our church. That evening, they hosted a meeting in their home and spent their time complaining about me. I would learn later that the father in this family created problems in every church he was ever in mostly by complaining about the pastor. I write not to complain about anyone who has a complaint about me, but to explore how our use of language affects us and those around us.
Dr. Travis Bradbury says that most of us complain once a minute during a typical conversation. He suggests that complaining feels good but is not good for you. He says that whenever we repeat a behavior like complaining, the brain builds bridges to other brain cells to make the behavior easier next time. He quotes scientists saying, “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” The more we complain, the easier it becomes until complaining becomes our default behavior.
There is a scary problem. Complaining shrinks that part of the brain critical to problem solving and intelligent thought. It shrinks that area of the brain destroyed by Alzheimer’s. Frequent complaining also harms the body by raising blood pressure and blood sugar, impairs the immune system and makes us more susceptible to diabetes and heart disease.
The damage does not stop with the individual. Being around people who complain a lot is like taking in second-hand smoke. Non-complainers suffer ill effects from the complainers. I overheard four people at lunch one day in a restaurant during the Great Recession. We were the only ones there. One man complained angrily about something a national political figure had done. I knew this was not true. Another said, “Well if he did that you know he’s going to…” and made up something to complain about. The conversation went like that. Anger grew. All because one complained and the others joined in raising their collective voices and blood pressure.
I write this because I find myself complaining on a daily basis about our political climate. As far as I can tell, I have not changed that climate one bit nor have I healed anyone’s spirit. A couple of New Testament phrases come to mind. “Be thankful in everything” I Thessalonians 5:18. “Test everything” I Thessalonians 5:21.
How can I make my words convey concern about something and speak love at the same time? Do I have an idea for how to improve things or am I just complaining?
What pathways do I want in my brain? What paths do I want for my own spirit? How do my words nurture my church, my groups of friends and family? How have I allowed myself to become emotional second-hand smoke? How I make my world better with my words?