Why complaining to your friends will get you nowhere fast…

The last couple of weeks have been pretty tough – first I got the Nora Virus and spent three days looking down a toilet. Nice

And just as I was recovering I got a crazy eye infection that landed me in the special eye A&E unit in London. Already having lost a week to the Nora Virus, Judy and I were determined not to loose any more time – and so we moved the writing of Rocketboy to the A&E ward where I had been sent. We have worked hard to create the space to write this screenplay, and we were going to fight for every hour we could get.

Judy and I began discussing how long the wait would be so that we could choose whether to work long hand on paper, or on the laptop. The couple next to us heard this and immediately leapt in with the ‘some people have been waiting five or six hours…it’s a disgraceful indictment of the NHS’.  

And so I braced myself for a long long wait.

But something bugged me.

You see, they were way to eager to share this information with me, about how ‘terrible the system is, how it’s broken and shocking’. And both husband and wife kept engaging with us, attempting to seek our agreement, time after time. I could even see from the corner of my crusty eye, they kept looking over to engage with us both, to complain about the terrible, awful and shocking state of affairs. They wanted very much for me to nod and agree with what they were saying.

As it happens, they had been waiting about 45 minutes before her name was called out (certainly not the five hours they had been talking about), and even when she went in, numerous disparaging comments were made, along with eye rolling and ‘wish me luck’ mumblings… not luck about her eye mind, luck with her tackling ‘the system’.

All in all I waited about an hour before I was seen three times, given drugs and sent home. As I sat there I noticed nurses and doctors working very hard with people who were in discomfort, pain, some with clear mental issues, and some extremely old and uncommunicative. It made me realise that this was a real job – in comparison, what I do is childs play. I was pretty awed by their commitment.

From walking in, to walking out having seen nurses, doctors and been given a prescription, it was about two hours. And I don’t think I was unusual.

So why would this couple complain so much and why did they so aggressively seek my agreement?

They had a fixed world view that there were ‘very serious problems with the NHS’.

Agreeing with them merely strengthened their world view – and to disagree was very hard, so hard I suggest most people would probably just smile and get on with their day. I know I did, I had a script to write.

What was even more bothersome was that come the point when the woman went in to see doctors and nurses, she was all smiles, airs and graces with the hospital staff. No complaints to them it seems.

I really felt like saying to this woman, ‘if you feel so strongly, do something about it, or shut up…’

Complaining gets us nowhere. Worse, it’s poisons possibilities and relationships. To be clear, they didn’t make just one passing comment, this was a continuous dialogue with us, and anyone else they could get to listen.

For me, there was a deep and profound lesson in this experience as I saw this familiar human trait for what it really was… and it was nasty.

If I have a complaint, I try to do something about it, or accept that this the way it is and then let go (and not to complain). Act or don’t act. The middle ground, sitting on the fence, will get splinters up my arse. It’s hard to give up a deeply held position where I am ‘right’, even if it’s clear I am ‘wrong’.

Moreover, I try to have the courage to confront my world view or complaint, and to ask myself, is in fact what I am complaining about actually the way that it is?

I can tell you, in that NHS building I saw nothing but hard working doctors and nurses dealing with challenging people. And they did it with compassion, smiles, professionalism and perhaps most saliently, with great speed and efficiency.

If the complaining couple has actually looked and listened they would have seen what both Judy and I saw, which was something rather different and humbling. But they were to busy being ‘right’.

How often have you met a person who has said… Let me moan about something, let me try and draw you into my world where I am 100% right, and let me try and get you to support my world view… but goodness me, don’t ask me to do anything about it, I’d much rather complain about it and be ‘right’.

Now here’s the sucker punch. Where in your life are you making complaints like this?

I know in my life there have been many times when I have made complaints ad nauseam to others.

The challenge for me is to let go of that world view and attempt to see things how they really are… and if they REALLY are how I have been saying they are, I try to do something about it, or shut up and accept.

And here’s the second sucker punch – more often than not, when I do get involved and do something about my complaint, I discover I am wrong and a total ass… OR, I discover that I don’t care about the issue anywhere near as much as I cared about being right and complaining. Again, proving myself an ass.

So next time you find yourself complaining, or seeking agreement from others about your complaint, take a step back and ask, ‘do I care enough to do something about this? Or I am just bothered about being right?’

Onwards and upwards!

Chris Jones
My movies www.LivingSpiritGroup.com
My Facebook www.Facebook.com/ChrisJonesFilmmaker
My Twitter @LivingSpiritPix

6 Responses to Why complaining to your friends will get you nowhere fast…

  1. Richard Purves February 17, 2013 at 5:28 pm #

    Well said. It’s one thing to moan about a problem but another entirely to do something about it. Sadly most go for the former. Personally speaking I like to whinge first and fix afterwards 😉

  2. Mark Davies February 17, 2013 at 8:44 pm #

    I think it’s part of our culture (by ‘our’ I mean British) to complain in this way. That is, NOT to complain specifically about – for example – soup at a restaurant that is too cold, but general, follow-the-crowd moaning about near specifics.
    The NHS is a classic case. We want to live in the best country. We want to be the best. And the best is always on the other side of the fence, isn’t it?
    Television is another. Lots of chat about how it’s all ‘crap’.

    Maybe everyone should be forced, not into National service, but two years of forced living abroad – 6 months in four different countries. I think people would have a lot more respect for the BBC and the NHS if they had a few months of certain countries’ telly!

    And while on the subject of the herd mentality (from which a lot of this endemic general moaning seems to come) why don’t a few million more of us stop boozing, smoking and stuffing our faces to excess? My last five-year long stint in the UK included three overnight stays at her NHS’s convenience (viruses). Despite feeling ill and wimpily sorry for myself, I could hear all the Doctors’ conversations when they did the round of the ward. I was absolutely shell-shocked that EVERY SINGLE one of the other patients had been admitted on drink issues or lung issues from ciggies. When I mentioned this to the Doctor, he told me that what he was seeng as the drain and the time bomb was obesity. The NHS (despite all its faults) as a concept is the envy of the world, and I know because I’ve been a bit here and there and know how people talk about it. Before these people moan they might consider what they’re doing in the hospital at the time – and whether it’s been self-inflicted. If it was full of people who had just been struck down – like you Chris with your Nora’s virus (didn’t Lucy V. Hay not already chastise you for not writing norovirus?) – with an illness by misfortune, or an accident, then the NHS would be sailing along like a well-oiled Swiss timepiece. It’s clogged up by people who abuse the gift that is free healthcare for all by treating their bodies with utter disdain and then expecting others to sort it out. Now.

    The first truly great soundbite I ever got from my Dad years ago was “change what you can’t accept, accept what you can’t change.”

    Simplistic but true as the wind.


  3. Saurabh Sikka February 18, 2013 at 3:09 am #

    I’m a doctor who has worked in the NHS. Have been a cardiologist in India last 5 years. Glad to know a perceptive mind out there mirrors the thoughts I have had. Chris, I’ve written a feature script about these experiences (on both sides) and am an avid follower of your Blog.
    You inpired me to start my own indie film Co. and put my notes in a blog!

    Someday I hope to produce this film – http://heartcommand.com/films/epideminc/

    Dr. Saurabh Sikka

  4. Mike February 18, 2013 at 1:57 pm #

    I very much agree with the ‘don’t just whinge, do something about it’ principle. Few things annoy me as much as constant whinging and then a lack of action. As far as the NHS is concerned that’s just what I’ve done – sought out the person who can do something about it and complained to them. On several occasions. The results? Mixed – very mixed. I would encourage everyone to do likewise, but understand that it doesn’t always succeed. But at least try.

    As far as the ‘NHS is the envy of the world’ stuff that Mark mentions – Sorry, Mark, total hooey! Yes, I have lived at length in other countries (no, not in India, Dr Sikka, but that’s hardly a like-for-like comparison, now is it?), but in other first world countries. I also have many friends who are citizens of other European countries. It was after I’d lived in Europe and the Far East and returned to Blighty that I realised we were being sold a lemon. My French and German firends who have lived in Britain are generally appalled by the standard of state health care. There are exceptions, and, happily, I now live in such an area. But what a postcode lottery! My ageing parents were in a bad area and I was so angered by the treatment they received over many years that was clearly affecting their health that I did something about it. So there! I moved them to live closer to us, so now they’re in the same NHS Trust as us. The result? A life-transforming operation for my mother that consultants in their old NHS area had told her (and me, when I complained) was very dangerous, terribly complicated and highly unlikely to succeed. The consultant in my area almost said something unprofessional when told this. It had been total hooey. A standard procedure in fact.

    So yes, don’t just grumble, do something about it. But, no, the NHS ain’t the 8th wonder of the world. BTW, my step-daughter works in the NHS and waiting for 5 hours is nothing to the stories she tells us! I won’t even tell you what happened to my cousin!

    BTW, what has this to do with film-making?

  5. Mark Davies February 19, 2013 at 10:55 am #

    Mike, the thing is that the NHS has been botched by political interfering. Post code lotteries, etc. All true. But if the NHS was all crap there wouldn’t be a post code lottery. My point is that a nation-wide free healthcare system is a big, heavy load. France? You pay for everything in France and then get “most’ of the money back. Not free, then, is it? Waiting lists are not too impressive in Denmark, either – somewhere with eye-watering tax rates. I think the general principle of free state healthcare and free state education is one to be proud of. The fact it often works poorly should give us all something to fight for (not whinge about). I have about a 50-50 satisfaction rate, and thank God I’m a healthy bod, but as a nation we could ALL (patients and staff) mutter less under our breath and try and force improvements. (I’m glad your parents were sorted out – I know what that feeling of worry is like.)

    I think ‘hooey’ is going to be my Word of the Day.

    Is it anything to do with filmmaking? Yes, in that there’s always much whingeing, complaining and eyeball rolling, too.

    • Mike February 20, 2013 at 1:23 pm #


      You described the NHS as ‘a nation-wide free healthcare system’. One of those adjectives isn’t true. Later as ‘free state healthcare’. Again one of the adjectives isn’t correct. It’s a myth that’s widely believed, well, sort of. We should all be terribly grateful because it’s [insert the untrue adjective]. A general principle of a [untrue adjective] health service would be great if it were achievable in the real world, but short of never paying the medical and support staff and all the other bills, I can’t see how any system can be [that word]. Once one lets go of that illusion (and it’s a politically inspired illusion) and sees it for what it is, the awe melts away.

      Glad you liked ‘hooey’.

      Completely agree with your film-making comments.

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