April 1, 2007

There is a pastor in Missouri who has challenged his flock to give up whining for three weeks. He's handed out purple bracelets, and whenever someone complains, they have to switch the bracelet from one wrist to the other and start again. If I were in his flock, I'd have wrist burn. I'd be switching that bracelet every 60 seconds.

Three weeks without a single complaint? That's like three weeks without oxygen. I don't see the point. Complaining is natural. It's something that brings people together. Catholics, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, what's the common denominator? They all whinge. Even a Buddhist must give in to temptation sometimes. Chances are, there's a monk right now whispering to his friend: "This rice is too sticky."

But this pastor seems to think the world will be a better place if people stopped complaining. So, okay, let's say we look on the brighter side of global warming, random acts of violence and a jihad. We still have to deal with flying economy.

I disagree that there's too much complaining in the world. I don't think there's enough. Still, I was curious. How long could I go for? I called Liza. "Let's have a complaining contest," I said. "Whoever complains first loses." It wasn't a question of if, but when. "Okay," she said, "but we can't begin now because I'm going to get my hair cut." She suggested we start the following morning. But that didn't work for me - I had therapy that afternoon.

That's why this trend will never catch on. There would be nothing to talk about in therapy. Can you imagine? "How does it feel not having love in your life?" And I'd say: "It's not so bad. I have a lot of free time."

As the days passed, Liza and I were having difficulty co-ordinating our schedules as to when to begin. When I was done with therapy, she was going on a date. I couldn't start the day after that: I was meeting the accountant. Then it was the weekend: she was overbooked, I was underbooked and Sunday nights are always depressing.

And then there was something else to consider: what constitutes complaining? Was it something that had to be said out loud? What if we thought a complaint? What if it wasn't a complaint as much as a statement of fact? For instance, "I'm not happy."

So many questions. I had to draw the line. Complaining is not the same thing as worrying. It had to be spoken, out loud, and it had to be about a headache - literally or figuratively - or some sort of gripe. Plus, we were each allowed one standard-issue complaint: something we say all the time so it doesn't count. Liza chose: I feel fat. I chose: I feel sick.

In the interim I read an article about how the church in Missouri has now shipped more than 125,000 bracelets everywhere from Nebraska to Iraq. I didn't see New York City on the list, though. Which means it's likely that people in Manhattan are complaining more than people in Iraq.

The day our contest was to begin, I e-mailed Liza in the evening to see if she'd complained yet. Her response: "I can't remember." She asked if I'd complained yet and I said no, but that was only because I hadn't left the house all day or spoken to anyone. So in the end, the contest never happened. It was a bad idea anyway.