Apparently the NBA recently instituted a ban on whining (could they come to my house?) It seems to include not just verbal kvetching but even such actions as eye rolling or waving your arms in disgust (I’d like to get them involved with some adolescents I know!) While this is certainly a step forward for the NBA, I’m much more concerned about the prevalence of whining in the general population. In fact, I didn’t even know that basketball players had such a problem with whining until I read about the new rule.

However, in society at large it is a serious issue. And I’m concerned about it for a number of reasons – some clearly selfish and some less so. In the self-interest category, I have to state that it is just really unpleasant to spend any significant time with people who whine (Am I at risk of being one of those people right now?) It’s certainly a test of my patience. I like to think it’s not because I’m lacking in compassion (although there’s always room for growth) but rather because I believe in engaging in productive activity. If something isn’t working, do what you can to change it. If there is nothing practical to do, ask the Almighty for help. If the Almighty seems disinclined to do so, then we need to accept the situation as presented. Self-pity is destructive to its subject and painful to the listener.

Everyone’s life has challenges. Sometimes we are overwhelmed by them. Sometime we need to share our struggles with a friend. We need sympathy, empathy, or perhaps advice. This is not the same as whining.

What sets whiners apart seems to be the fact that they ALWAYS have something to complain about (at the restaurant the service is awful, at home the kids aren’t behaving, their friend’s husband makes more money, the cleaning lady doesn’t work as hard as she should – you’ve met them, right?), they frequently adopt a particularly grating tone when they do so and they seem uniquely resistant to actually taking action to try to improve their situation.

By listening to whiners we become their enablers (Whiners Anonymous, anyone?). We permit and give legitimacy to their constant complaints. We foster the belief that their life really is rough, their wife is unusually difficult, their boss is definitely abusive, their children poorly behaved. The whiner is encouraged to feel sorry for him or herself, wallowing in self-pity instead of working towards a solution. The whiner also clings to the position that he or she is the aggrieved party – everyone else is always wrong; the whiner is always right.

This argues against any growth on the part of the whiner, against any self-reflection or introspection. It is not a kindness on our part to indulge this self-destructive behavior and listen to the whiner. It just encourages them on this negative path.

We also want to nip in the bud their constant litany of complaints against their spouses or children. It is not healthy for their family life. They need to be shown a positive way of looking at their situation; they need a reframe. They need to work on a rosier outlook and stop blaming others for their problems. Above all, whining is the avoidance of responsibility; whiners need to turn this around by stepping up to the plate and taking responsibility for their lives and choices.

Basketball now has obvious penalties for whining. It has referees to catch the players and enforce the new rules. We, on the other hand, must manage on our own. And yet we need to be on a higher alert since the personal consequences are so much greater.