NB. This post isn’t one of my easiest to read. Not because I intend to make it complex. But because it has the potential to trigger many readers. If you think you’re a sensitive person, you’re better off reading my other articles (don’t worry, there are many to keep you occupied). If you’re curious and like contrarian positions, read on. Either way, you have been warned.

Losing the right to complain

What do I mean by lose the right to complain?

The truth is we’re a big bunch of moaners. No really, think about it: when was the last time you went a day without complaining yourself or hearing a complaint from someone else? If you’re remotely attuned to any type of media, even a social media feed never mind the news, you’ll be flooded with a sea of negativity, most of it underpinned by someone complaining about something.

Being British, I used to think that complaining was a national pastime and something Brits did a bit more than others. After I saw more of the world however, I realised that almost every country thinks the same about itself.

Don’t get me wrong, complaining is important. Complaining is vital in sticking it to the oppressive man. It’s crucial in setting boundaries against those who push your buttons too far. And it’s useful in keeping people on their toes to ensure progress is made and not stagnation.

The problem is most people don’t stop there when they complain. Many whine for the sake of it. Others from a sense of entitlement. Even with a high quality of life (if you’re reading this, you’re accessing the internet and almost certainly have a higher quality of life than most humans who’ve ever lived), we pity our state of affairs and vent at the next person who’ll hear us out.

It’s far easier to make complaining an indulgence in self-pity than you might think. And you don’t want to succumb to self-pity. The late legendary investor Charlie Munger described it thus:

Self-pity can get pretty close to paranoia. Paranoia is one of the very hardest things to reverse. You do not want to drift into self-pity. I had a friend who carried a thick stack of linen-based cards. When somebody would make a comment that reflected self-pity, he would slowly and portentously pull out his huge stack of cards, take the top one, and hand it to the person. The card said, “Your story has touched my heart. Never have I heard of anyone with as many misfortunes as you.”

Well, you can say that’s waggery, but I suggest it can be mental hygiene. Every time you find you’re drifting into self-pity, whatever the cause, even if your child is dying of cancer, self-pity is not going to help. Just give yourself one of my friend’s cards. Self-pity is always counterproductive. It’s the wrong way to think. And when you avoid it, you get a great advantage over everybody else, or almost everybody else, because self-pity is a standard response. And you can train yourself out of it.

Lose The Right To Complain Self Pity

There are many situations where we lose the right to complain. Let me explain.

Say you are a single straight guy looking to date. The mother of all temptations comes along. You meet a lovely lady who dangles the nice juicy hoop of her bosom in front of you (and a whole lot more). All is going well between the two of you and you think it’s time to get intimate.

As you progress, there’s one “small” point she brings up—she has a boyfriend.

Do you go ahead and sleep with her knowing you are complicit in making her cheat on someone? Or do you forgo taking part in this tryst and look to pastures new?

One thing is certain if you do get intimate: you lose the right to complain in the event that someone cheats on you in the future.

Some will claim that the burden of infidelity lies entirely with the woman in this instance and that you can’t be held culpable for her breach of trust.

Yet in this situation, acknowledge this: you don’t know her boyfriend and whether he even deserves to be cheated on (if there is such a thing) no matter what the woman says about him. If it’s a monogamous relationship (and let’s face it, >99% of the time it is), then someone is being unfaithful and you’re willingly contributing to an adulterous breach of trust if you help her cheat.

If you create an affair, you’re potentially breaking up a long-term relationship that could be salvaged. How could you claim otherwise? You haven’t got the insight to infer that a relationship was going to end anyway based on what one party in that relationship says.

Why is this true? Simple: imagine you were in the boyfriend’s position and the power of empathy hits home. If you discover some guy had an affair with your girlfriend and thought it was ok because your relationship was somewhat on the rocks, would you think that’s ok? Would you forgive him? Would you agree that he was right to make assumptions on the status of your relationship even though he’s a total stranger?

This is why you lose the right to complain in such a scenario if someone cheats on you in the future. How can you defend yourself with integrity when you showed no remorse with someone else’s relationship? How can you claim your situation of being cheated on is worse when you had no idea what the girl’s boyfriend was going through when you had an affair with her?

This logic holds true even if you have a wife and kids. Yes, you read correctly, if you’ve cheated in the past you lose the right to complain even if the mother of your children cheats on you. Not having a ring on the finger nor being childless isn’t more justification to be cheated on. It might seem more grave when someone is married and a parent but the integrity of a relationship is broken all the same.

Lose The Right To Complain Cheat

Another scenario where you lose the right to complain is if you don’t vote.

Of course not everyone belongs to a democracy where they can have a say in how things are conducted with the power of their votes. But for those that do, it’s imperative that you take that opportunity and act on it.

Think about it this way—if you can’t take a few minutes every few years or so to place a ballot when people in certain nations would kill to be able to participate in a democracy, do you really have the right to bitch and whine when a party you wouldn’t vouch for wins and moves policies in a direction you don’t like?1

The common retort to this is to say that there are election years where no party/candidate is viable in a person’s eyes, even a party they may have voted for in the past. They believe the lack of quality absolves them from voting preventing them from committing to any misaligned candidate.

But there are still two things you can do in such a situation.

One, if you’re lucky and live in a country that allows it, you can do what my friend in America did during the 2020 United States presidential election and vote for yourself2.

Or two, and more realistically, you can accept that democracy isn’t about waiting for the ideal candidate who’s aligned with all your values and from there, treat balloting as an exercise in selecting the least worst option.

Another situation where you lose the right to complain is when someone who’s an expert or authority in a field forewarns you about not doing something and you do it anyway.

For example, say you’re a person who’s unfit and overweight, states entirely caused by lifestyle choices such as a diet of junk food and sedentariness. During your routine check-up, your doctor warns you that you’re on the brink of chronic health conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. They advise you to adopt a healthier diet immediately, cut down on junk food and start light exercise otherwise the chance of you becoming afflicted with a lifelong and potentially morbid condition is imminent.

If you ignore them, continue to eat a lot of fast food and refrain from exercise, then experience chronic illness a few months later, do you have the right to complain?

Or say you’re a travelling nomad and you’re considering visiting a turbulent region awash with problems, conflict and violent crime. Experienced nomads in a group chat you’re part of warn you about the rates of crime and theft of foreigners there. You hear from local sources that the area is unsafe. Still you assume you’re more shrewd than those ‘naive’ victims, that nothing bad will happen to you and go anyway (you’ll be surprised how many digital nomads are like this).

A week later, a local thug robs you of your phone and wallet at gunpoint and you feel forced to leave the city prematurely to be able to do your work properly. Can you really grumble or did you lose the right to complain as soon as you set foot in the region?

Reading these scenarios, you might think I’m being harsh. Does anyone deserve to be robbed and if not, why can’t they mutter their grievances about it?

But when you’ve acted against common sense, or in the case of cheating, when you’ve justified a moral asymmetry, how can you look others in the eye and protest? Due to your lack of rationale, you lose face when complaining to yourself and to others.

Lose The Right To Complain Ignore

Complaining is weak. Complaining is needy. Complaining lessens your internal locus of control and creates a blame culture where you scapegoat other things and other people.

And worse yet, no-one wants to hear your complaints. If you keep complaining, people might hear what you have to say but they won’t respect you:

Never tell your problems to anyone…20% don’t care and the other 80% are glad you have them.” ― Lou Holtz

No-one’s saying that you can’t feel bad. It’s natural to feel hurt when things don’t go our way. Yet you should use this pain to learn from your mistakes and become a stronger and wiser person for it. As renowned poet, writer and civil rights activist Maya Angelou proclaimed in one of my favourite quotes of all time:

What you’re supposed to do when you don’t like a thing is change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it. Don’t complain.

Change your situation or change your mind. Lose the right to complain, that sense of entitlement we believe we have to grumble and you’ll be a better person for it.

Lose The Right To Complain Better

Summary – Lose the right to complain

Complaining is a deceptive double-edged sword. On the one hand, it can be a useful pushback against injustice, transgressions of rights, and loss of boundaries. But on the other, it can be a useless waste of energy, a paranoid indulgence in self-pity, and the hallmark of an unproductive whiner. Unfortunately, the latter side of the blade is all too sharper than the former.

There are many scenarios where we lose the right to complain. Some include making someone cheat on their partner, not making use of your democratic privilege to vote, and ignoring clear advice from experts in a field.

Complaining gets tiring before too long, for yourself and for others. Much better to get over a failure by reflecting on what you can learn, taking ownership of your outcomes and controlling what you can control. Don’t join increasingly overprivileged and whiny generations of people in first world countries across the globe. Be grateful for the opportunities to travel and live abroad, earn money whilst nomading, and connect with others worldwide.

1 And many countries even allow postal votes making logistical problems in voting less excusable.

2 Yes, this really is a thing in America. I’ve definitely had electoral years where I was tempted to do the same, such is the calibre of politicians these days.