Introduction Hell is other people.
Other people are our greatest gift.
Other people can be our greatest challenge.
Do a mental inventory. Better yet, pull out a piece of paper and write down every problem or challenge you are facing, every issue that concerns you—anything about which you have negative feelings or concerns. Then ask yourself, “How many of these problems involve other people?” Chances are the vast majority of struggles you face has to do with other people and could be improved by better relationships with them. Whether it is connecting at a deeper level with your intimate partner, convincing someone at work that your course of action is best, getting your children to do their chores, or explaining your needs to a salesclerk, most of our problems involve other people and could be resolved with successful, productive relationships. Even in support of large-scale global issues or causes, when you are able to build solid connections with others you are better able to influence positive change.
Our relationships with others can enhance every aspect of our lives or create untold stress. Our relationships can bring us pleasure as well as pain, comfort as well as conflict, peace as well as power struggles.
You may feel you are a victim in your relationships and powerless to improve them. You may even feel you are trapped in a spiral of negative, unhappy, and unfulfilling associations with others. But such is not the case. You are not a victim and you are not trapped. Beginning now, you can create the relationships you desire. You can transform your relationships with your significant other, friends, family, coworkers, and even casual acquaintances and begin to experience greater joy in these connections.
As you learn new relationship skills, you will begin to attract people to you who are warm, giving, helpful, agreeable, supportive, positive, and complimentary. And you will begin to draw out these same qualities in your existing relationships. Instead of complaining about how others are treating you, you will begin to create positive experiences that compound themselves and your life will vastly improve.
The genesis of what you will learn in this book began in July of 2006 when I presented an idea to my congregation. I am the lead minister at One Community Spiritual Center in Kansas City, Missouri. While teaching a series on manifesting prosperity, I handed out purple bracelets to be used as a tool to help eradicate complaining.
Our thoughts create our lives and our words indicate what we are thinking. Most people believe they are positive and optimistic. They think they are holding affirmative visions of ideal outcomes. In actuality, most people’s thoughts are negative. Try as they may to think positively, most people’s thoughts are decidedly bleak, as evidenced by their constant complaining. This propensity to think negatively plays out as dissatisfying life events and relationship.
The prolific mystery writer Agatha Christie once wrote, “Curious things, habits. People themselves never knew they had them.” Truer words were never spoken, especially in regard to people’s habitual complaining. Based on the information shared by people who have taken the Complaint Free challenge, the average person complains fifteen to thirty times a day and has no awareness he or she is doing so. Our Complaint Free bracelets have helped millions set a trap for their negativity by catching themselves in the act. Unlike the other ubiquitous silicone bracelets you see in every color of the rainbow, the ones we distribute are not to inform the world that the wearer supports a cause. Our purple bracelets are a tool to help people become aware of how often they complain and to begin to eradicate this negative and destructive form of communication from their lives.
The idea is simple: put the purple bracelet on either wrist and when (not if) you catch yourself complaining aloud, move the bracelet to the other wrist. With each complaint, the bracelet is to be moved from the current wrist to the other. In this process, you became aware of your negativity and, over a period of months, begin to complain less.
The goal is to complete 21 consecutive days without complaining. Scientists believe it takes 21 days for a new behavior to become habitual, so when you have gone 21 consecutive days without complaining, you will have reformatted your mental hard drive and being Complaint Free will be a new and enduring habit.
I first gave out 250 bracelets to my congregation but in short order the idea exploded around the world and what was a simple sermon tool has since become a worldwide movement. We have sent millions of purple bracelets to people in more than 105 countries and continue to send out tens of thousands each month. Thousands of individuals, families, churches, schools, prisons, therapists, hospitals, drug rehab centers, and businesses have embraced this program, with some amazing results. A Complaint Free World
split off from our church and is a thriving nonreligious not-for-profit organization offering resources and tools to help people and organizations move beyond complaining to create a brighter reality.
We have been featured on Oprah
and on every major television network in the United States as well as on many, many network and cable television shows around the world. Hundreds of newspapers both in the United States and internationally have done stories on us. Stories about us have appeared in dozens of magazines in the United States including People
Magazine publishers in the Netherlands and South Africa have included our purple bracelets in their magazines and have not only helped spread this concept and distribute bracelets but also seen their magazines’ sales increase.
Companies have approached us wanting to distribute our bracelets with their products and have become official sponsors in their product arenas for what has become known as the Complaint Free Movement. My previous book, A Complaint Free World: How to Stop Complaining and Start Enjoying the Life You Always Wanted,
which I wrote to answer the thousands of questions I was receiving by letter and email, became an international bestseller and continues to be published and read in more than a dozen countries around the world.
Not a day goes by that I don’t receive several Google alerts of people blogging about their experiences with the Complaint Free challenge. I have been invited to deliver keynote addresses at dozens of conventions and conferences for many types of organizations, from federal agencies and Fortune 20 companies to schools, churches, hospitals, and civic organizations. This truly has become a phenomenon that continues to grow and expand and I am touched, honored, and amazed to be a part of it.
This is all very exciting. However, what is most gratifying are the thousands of people who have stayed with the challenge (and challenge it can be) to go 21 consecutive days without complaining. We have a link at our website, AComplaintFreeWorld.org, where people can let us know that they have completed 21 days without complaining, and we have received confirmation from people around the world who have made being Complaint Free a habit.
But one day, as I was sitting on a plane waiting to fly out to deliver a speech to several hundred corporate leaders about developing Complaint Free organizations, I had an epiphany. I was thinking about the Complaint Free program and was struck with what some might call a blinding flash of the obvious.
Yes, our lives are a reflection of our thoughts—this has been said by philosophers and leaders of every stripe for thousands of years. Yes, it’s important for us to monitor what we are saying, as it indicates what we are thinking. Yes, this can be accomplished by the simple exercise of switching a bracelet from wrist to wrist until we become Complaint Free. All this is true.
The epiphany I experienced that day was that nearly all complaining is based on relationships.
Complaining is almost always about another person—a person with whom we are in some sort of relationship. The relationship may be formal, such as a marriage or work relationship, or it may be an informal relationship, such as with a customer we are serving or a person living in the next apartment. The relationship may be fleeting, such as with someone we pass in traffic, or it may span decades, such as our relationship with our family.
Because I am a minister, people often come to me for counseling and in nearly every case the challenge they are facing is a relationship challenge. In most of these counseling sessions, I discover that the relationship problems are either created or exacerbated by them complaining to or about the person with whom they share the relationship. As I delved into the subject, I discovered copious research has been done on the negative effects of complaining on relationships.
As early as 1938, a study by Lewis Terman showed that unhappy couples were distinguished from happy ones by the extent to which they reported their partner being argumentative, critical, and nagging (i.e., complaining). And in “A Descriptive Taxonomy of Couples’ Complaint Interactions,” originally published in the Southern Speech Communication Journal
in 1989, Dr. J. K. Alberts states, “Diverse research indicates that negativity and negative communication are positively correlated with relational dissatisfaction.” In other words, unhappy relationships are most often distinguished by complaining.
You may think, “But relationships are challenging, so why not complain?” Complaining gets out our frustrations so we don’t have pent-up anger and resentment, right? Actually, the opposite is true and we’ll discuss the “getting it out” myth in detail in this book.
Perhaps, rather than struggle, we could just give up on relationships—become the epitome of solitude and self-reliance. Then at least we wouldn’t have to endure Sartre’s “hell” of other people.
Sorry, that’s not an option. We need relationships with others. Relationships are not simply something we want—relationships are a need.
Enrique Gutierrez immigrated to the United States from Cuba. While in Cuba, Enrique refused to sign on to the Castro regime’s quashing of civil rights and exploiting the citizens of his beloved homeland. Enrique spoke out in favor of liberty and human rights. As a result, he was imprisoned in solitary confinement for more than a year. As he lay on the floor of his four-foot-by-six-foot cell, naked and with nothing but a rancid, threadbare blanket to stave off the cold, Enrique was in pain. The arresting officers had repeatedly and severely beaten him and, in the process, knocked out all of his teeth. His body was bruised and his bones were broken. Due to the poor nutrition offered at the prison, Enrique, who was already quite thin, had lost a great deal of weight and his skin had begun to crack and split at his elbows, shoulders, and knees, leaving festering, oozing sores.
His body was in relentless pain, yet Enrique told me that his greatest pain at that time was in his separation from other people. Not only did he miss his family but he was allowed no contact with any other human being and his soul cried out for connection.
We not only want to be in relationships with others, we crave our connections with them. Children who do not experience adequate human contact in their formative years can develop what is known as failure to thrive (FTT), in which their bodies fail to develop in normal, healthy ways. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, one of the major contributing factors in FTT is often emotional deprivation. These children may experience the lack of an emotional relationship with others and their bodies respond to this deprivation by not growing properly.
The physical impact of a deficiency of relationships can be experienced at any age. Research has found that older people tend to visit doctors more often than younger people. Surely the decrepitude of age plays a part in this but studies have also found that a major reason older adults seek out doctors, chiropractors, and other health professionals is simply so that they can spend time with someone who gives them caring attention. Many of these older people have outlived their contemporaries, leaving their lives a wasteland void of human connection. Doctors and other professionals provide the relationship stimulation they hunger for.
Studies of other species support the idea that relationships are a need. Human beings often study chimpanzees, our closest evolutionary relatives, in an attempt to understand our own nature. In the simian world, the necessity of relationships is evident. A study on the enrichment of nonhuman primates by the National Institutes of Health found that chimps have a need for social nteraction and relationships. Scientists there concluded, “While wild chimpanzees often spend part of the day alone, they are naturally social animals for whom constant solitude is a hardship.”
Beyond needing connections and the pure joy of being with and sharing our life experiences with others, we also gain a great deal from our relationships.
A recent study conducted at Walter Reed Army Hospital found that approximately 17 percent of soldiers who were in battle but were not wounded suffer post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Surprisingly, only 4 percent of soldiers—one out of every 25—who have been in battle and were
seriously wounded (loss of an arm, leg, serious burns, paralysis, etc.) experience PTSD.
Doctors reviewing these statistics were surprised because they reasoned that a soldier who was badly wounded would have far greater challenges with post-traumatic stress. Why would a severely wounded soldier be 75 percent less
likely to have lingering emotional challenges than one who was not wounded at all?
The researchers found that the answer to this perplexing question lay in therapy. Not psychological therapy but physical therapy; specifically, how physical therapy at Walter Reed was administered. Physical therapy at Walter Reed Army Hospital is conducted in one large room in which all of the wounded soldiers strive to return to a life resembling normalcy. As injured soldiers go through their daily physical therapy regimen, they see other soldiers, perhaps worse off than themselves, struggling to overcome their afflictions. Witnessing the other soldiers’ efforts to recover, the soldiers become cheerleaders for one another. They encourage one another; they celebrate each other’s smallest gains; they empathize deeply and let the other wounded soldiers know that they are pulling for them. The relationships created during their physical restoration help to heal their tortured psyches.
Relationships are the channels through which we receive the material things we desire as well. Every human being has hopes and dreams to which he or she aspires. Take a moment and reflect on the things you want. Ask yourself, “If I could have any of a thousand wishes, what would I like to have?”
Now, consider that everything you desire is either in the form of or possessed by another person. You may want a caring and supportive person with whom to share your life; that means a relationship. You may want a new car, fine home, or other luxury; you will need to earn the money for these things by serving other people and that means relationships. Relationships with others bring us everything we seek. It is imperative that we learn to get along with other people to achieve what we desire.
In The Millionaire Mind,
author Thomas Stanley reports that of the thousands of self-made millionaires he interviewed, when they were asked, “What is the most important skill for attracting wealth?” fully 94 percent listed an ability to get along well with others as very or extremely important to wealth accumulation. In fact, they rated the skill of creating healthy relationships with others as nearly five times more important to wealth creation than having above-average intelligence.
Your ability to get along with others will yield relationships that themselves can be more valuable than money. And your ability to cultivate and maintain relationships can bring you the material possessions you desire as well.
Complaining warps, weakens, and sometimes even destroys the very relationships that are vital to our happiness and wellbeing. When we engage in complaining, our relationships stagnate and devolve. Complaining shifts our focus from the positive attributes that drew us to the other person to what we perceive to be his or her faults. This shift draws us into a trap in which we feel unfulfilled and the other person feels inadequate.
My wife, Gail, used to work in an office where once a month several female employees would engage in what they called “group therapy.” “Group therapy” meant going to a local Mexican restaurant, drinking several margaritas, and complaining vociferously about the men in their lives. The dominant theme seemed to be that “all men are dogs.” Not surprisingly, none of these women was in a happy and sustaining relationship with a man.
Now, you might think that the women complained because their relationships with men were unfulfilling. But studies show that the opposite is true: their relationships with men were unfulfilling because they complained. Their focus was on the negative aspects of their relationships, and their commiseration about their challenges magnified their problems. Having spent the evening complaining about the “dogs” in their life, when these women arrived home they couldn’t help but see Old Yeller sitting there in the La-Z-Boy. Their expectation, based on the case they had built in their heads, was that men were dogs. The women’s husbands or boyfriends sensed this dissatisfaction and simply lived up (or, actually, down) to their expectations.
I once knew a very famous minister who confided, “Ministry would be great if only you didn’t have to deal with people.” Dealing with people can be a struggle filled with pain and sorrow but it needn’t be so. The brilliant French philosopher and playwright Jean-Paul Sartre is known widely for the downbeat quote that begins this introduction—“Hell is other people.” Late in life, Sartre explained, “ ‘Hell is other people’ has always been misunderstood. It has been thought that what I meant by that was that our relations with other people are always poisoned, that they are invariably hellish relations. But what I really mean is something totally different. I mean that if relations with someone else are twisted, vitiated, then that other person can only be hell.”
If your relations with others are twisted and vitiated (faulty), your relationships with them will seem like hell. You can straighten out twisted relationships. You can place them upon a solid foundation. You simply need to be open to new ideas and willing to allow these ideas to create new experiences. At the end of each chapter in this book you will find a section titled “Opening Up,” which will give you exercises to more deeply integrate what you are learning. Some of these exercises include writing and you will gain much greater benefit from these exercises if you invest a moment to write down your answers on a piece of paper or in a journal.
If you’re ready to move from hellish to harmonious connections, if you are ready to move from contemptuous to Complaint Free relationships, then let’s get started.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Complaint Free Relationships by Will Bowen. Copyright © 2009 by Will Bowen. Excerpted by permission of Harmony, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.