The other day I met a man who had nothing good to say. In fact, he complained about everything. But he didn’t stop with complaining; he actually was trying to fix every wrong that ever existed – the economy, healthcare, customer service, the government, racial slights, or just about every slight he’d ever experienced in his 75 years of life. He was sort of likable, but he complained for the entire 60 minutes he was in my life.
I believe he had valid complaints, but the problem is, none of the things he complained about are going to change. Either they are in the past, unchangeable, or he’s not spoken to the people responsible. As my Dad used to say, “some people think it’s easier to complain about it, then it is to actually change it.” As we dropped the man off, I mentioned that man had an axe to grind, but it wasn’t getting any sharper.
Last week I worked with someone who has faced some difficult situations. During the time I spent with this person, I heard a lot of grief about incidents in the past. I heard complaints about other people, organizations, and situations. I heard an incredible lack of tolerance for others, forgiveness for those who have hurt this person, and frustration in the state of unchangeable situations.
At one point my coworker almost asked how I thought these obstacles could be overcome. Almost… so, I carefully paraphrased the Serenity Prayer in this manner: “I’ve learned,” I said, “to ignore the things I have no control over, and to focus on the things I can change. And,” I continued, “about the only thing I have control over is what color socks I’m going to wear today. Everything else I have to get permission from others, or negotiate, or compromise.” Then I dropped it.
Why do so many people have an axe (or two) to grind?
I believe it’s about forgiveness, or the lack thereof. I believe it’s about acceptance, or the lack of such. I believe it’s about love, and the inability to love people who think and act differently from us. I also believe it’s about expectations – which are really premeditated resentments.
Instead, these expectations are not met, and we resent others, organizations, and the many broken promises in our lives…
Of course the government is messed up. Of course customer service has ceased to be about the customer, or about service. Of course you have broken relationships in your life, that’s the unfortunate side-effect of people with differing points of view. But the real problem is that we expect the government to be perfect, customer service be centered around us (and have low, low prices 😉 ), and all the people in our lives to never offend us, or go against our wishes.
Joseph said, “Satan meant to harm, but God turned it into a blessing.”
Iron does sharpen iron, will you let it? Will you let go of the things you have no control over? Will you forgive the people, and the faceless organizations that have hurt you – or failed to live up to your expectations? Will you focus on your own growth? Will you quit trying to change things that can’t be changed? Don’t you have enough work taking the plank out of your own eye?
Let it go, move on, find the serenity that is yours for the taking!
The fascinating thing is, it takes real humility to let go of these slights. It takes real strength, demonstrated through humility and meekness. In other words, when one is willing to freely surrender to the fact that they are not the Master of the Universe, and they are not in control of everything, that brings strength and peace. I believe it is fear that provokes people to hang onto the stuff they complain about. People are afraid of change, they are afraid of being out of control, they are afraid of being insignificant. Maybe, by focusing on others, we can hide from our own true insecurities?
Surrendering to the serenity that comes from letting go of things we have no control over, and working on the things we can change – that is where real strength and courage are born. Working on our own stuff, that takes real effort.