Alternatives To The Culture Of Complaint

In a black and white world, where there is only one alternative to each and every choice, John may be right to say that acquiescence seems to be the only other fork in the road. I’m not convinced.

The moral world is actually far more complex, and requires the believer to consider a great many possibilities. From my experience in parish ministry, I’ll say that the Culture of Complaint is alive and well outside of the blogosphere. Unfortunately, it even rears its ugly head at my parish now and then. But there are alternatives to the false scenario of kvetch or shut up.

Discernment, in which a person is choosy about going public about what offends them. When a discerning person does complain, she or he will get more notice than the person who is consistently against something in a public way every day.

One-on-one, in which a person approaches an offending person quietly, privately, and directly. Would Archbishop Niederauer have issued an apology having received thousands of e-mails and letters, sans the blogposts calling him an apostate and false shepherd? It would have been more dignified, so to speak, than the name-calling and sending the missives to Rome.

Get involved, in which a person who consistently complains about some aspect of the Church actually signs on to do something positive. Sing in the choir. Help the coat drive or the food pantry. Tutor a child. Join the prayer chain. Granted some of our most vociferous complainers are active in any number of parish ministries. But some aren’t. These people often lack the perspective of what’s really going on.

Cultivate a sensibility of gratitude, in which a person examines their life for signs of God’s grace and makes a point to be as expressive about one’s positive experiences as the negative ones. The advantage of this is that a person doesn’t get sucked down into negativity, and again, when an authentic complaint arises, the person is more likely to be listened to and considered rather than dismissed as a whiner.

I’m sure others can think of other alternatives. Have a go at it.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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4 Responses to Alternatives To The Culture Of Complaint

  1. John Heavrin says:

    Todd, you have a tendency to think that you’re the only one who realizes that the world isn’t “black and white” and that it falls to you to remind us that things are sometimes more subtle than that. You should be embarrassed at thinking so little of your readers. I for one learned long ago that the glorious rainbow includes many colors, not just black and white.

    Of course many situations are subtle, and of course they do call for the obvious suggested alternatives you’ve listed. There was nothing subtle about this situation, however: there was nothing subtle about the action of the activists, and there was unfortunately nothing subtle about the Archbishop’s faulty response to it. I don’t think he should be called an apostate or some of the other rougher things that have been said. I do think what he did should be loudly criticized and I am glad that it was. In a situation as provocative as this, silence can only mean acquiesence; cooperation, in which the Archbishop unwittingly found himself engaging, is outrageous and needs to be pointed out, loudly.

    What gives you the idea that the “complainers” as you categorize them are not already doing the things you suggest, and many other things, in addition to speaking out when necessary? Do you assume that when a person says intemperate things that you may not like, that she doesn’t pray or donate clothes? Gee that’s quite the assumption.

    And besides, speaking out, making noise, ruffling feathers, pissing people off, etc., have their place.

    When speaking out is necessary, as it was in this ridiculous case, it is in fact a matter of “kvetch or shut up.” Shutting up in the face of this disgraceful nonsense would have been wrong, and, to speculate, no I don’t think the Archbishop would have been moved to apologize without the complaints. After all, without the outcry, he tells us, he would have had no idea that anything was wrong at all or needed apology, only that “one was wearing flowers,” or some such.

    The rhetoric is occasionally unfortunate, which is lamentable. But not remotely as lamentable as silence is when noise is warranted. Or noise when silence is warranted. It’s not always easy knowing when to talk and when to shut up.

    But sometimes it is.

  2. Todd says:

    Sorry, John, but you were the one who wrote, “You can condemn what you call a “Culture of Complaint” all you like; the alternative seems to be silence, and therefore acquiescence.”

    The qualifier “seems to be” was important, but I realize that many Catholics, including many conservatives, do indeed realize there are alternatives.

    I’m afraid that the reaction to the archbishop’s apology probably doesn’t fall under the category of “obvious.”

    Anyway, thanks for commenting here, John, and for helping to keep me honest.

  3. FrMichael says:

    Without the nationwide storm of criticism, there is no way that the SF chancery would have thought anything amiss. Coverup and denial has been its way since Archbishop Quinn– continuing unchanged under Levada and Niederaurer. The PR flack’s brief statement in this sorry affair is all we would have heard about it save for the video clip.

    I take the apology of the archbishop at face value, as that is the most charitable thing to do. Unfortunately, the Lavender Mafia will continue to exist unchallenged in the archdiocese and at that parish. The reasons for that are too dark to contemplate.

  4. I’m grateful, Todd, for some helpful words in your post as I write a homily on the story of the 10 lepers. Thanks!

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