Whether you call it whining, kvetching, fault-finding or complaining - when a person constantly finds things wrong with whatever situation he's in, it makes him and the people around him miserable. In this week's Torah portion (11:1) the people wrongfully complained as God was taking them through the Sinai desert. Their consequences can teach us all a lesson about how we should try to maximize our situation - not complain about it.
In our story, a kid sees how much better life can be without complaining.
"C'mon kids! Last one out to the car is a rotten egg!"
Mrs. Randolph didn't have to work to hard to round up her noisy brood this time - they were on their way to FantastaLand, the biggest, best amusement park around. They'd been looking forward to this trip for weeks already, which their parents promised them if everybody pulled up their grades a little on their spring report cards. It wasn't easy, but they did it! And now they were finally on their way. They could hardly believe it.
The car was packed with kids, snacks, drinks, car seats, changes of clothes, and all the million and one things families need for a big day trip, but the crowded conditions didn't bother anyone.
Well, almost anyone.
From the moment she'd gotten up that morning - every morning actually - Beth had been upset and disappointed. The same cereal everyone enjoyed, she found stale. The same milk everyone drank, tasted sour to her - and she made sure to say so. Just like a leaky faucet, Beth's little fault-finding comments dripped slowly but surely all over everyone.
By the time they arrived at FantastaLand, everyone had already heard plenty from Beth about how hot the car was, how crowded it was, and how she was sure they hadn't brought enough drinks to last the whole day. Beth's complaints didn't stop either once they reached their destination.
As her brothers and sisters ran happily from ride to ride, Beth moped around miserably, pointing out everything that was wrong. By one ride, the line was too long, by the next ride, "Achh, of all times for it to be closed for repairs! Just when we come!" Beth complained that the drinks were too warm, the sun too hot, the park too big and spread out. Soon Beth's attitude became contagious the other kids too, began complaining. Finally Mr. and Mrs. Randolph had enough.
"Beth! Family Conference! Immediately!" They didn't want to embarrass Beth in front of her siblings, so they called her over to the side. "Beth, we've warned you to stop with the complaining. I'm afraid that because of your constant fault-finding, we are just going to have to leave the park now and take everyone home. We didn't come all this way just to make everyone miserable. We came here to make you happy, remember?"
"Oh no way, Mom. Dad. How could you make us leave? We just got here! How could you do this to us?"
"Hmm. So what would you do, Beth, if you were us?" said Mr. Randolph.
"I'd... I'd..." For once, Beth was at a loss for words. "I guess I'd ask me to stop complaining so much," she answered sheepishly. "And just try to enjoy myself."
"Hmm... Okay, so how about if we try that? Beth, could you please stop complaining so much and try to enjoy yourself?"
"I think I can try it, Dad. And thanks for giving me another chance."
The family continued their trip through the park when they reached a ride that had just closed.
"Oh, I can't believe..." Beth started to whine, then caught herself, "I mean ... no big deal - let's go check out one of the great rides that are still open."
As she and the other kids ran to the next ride, Beth thought she saw her mother give her a special smile. They all ended up having a super day -especially Beth, who discovered that the less she complained, the less she felt like complaining.
As they drove home, happy and full, Beth whispered in her mother's ear. "Thanks Mom, for everything. For the trip, and for helping me to stop complaining. I didn't realize it was possible for me not to complain, but it was! Somebody must have given you some very good advice!" Beth and her mom laughed. The leaky faucet of Beth's complaints had finally stopped dripping, and the family drove quietly, and happily, home.
Q. How did Beth feel at first about the trip?
A. She felt unhappy and complained a lot, even though it made everyone miserable.
Q. How did she feel in the end?
A. When she saw how bad her complaining made everyone else feel and almost ruined the trip, and she tried to stop, she felt much happier.
Q. What life lesson do you think Beth learned that day?
A. She thought that nothing was wrong with seeing what wasn't perfect and pointing it out. But after she had to give up either the trip or her fault-finding, she saw how not focusing on what was wrong with things made both her and the people around her much happier.
Q. Do you think there is ever a benefit to complaining?
A. Sometimes a situation is genuinely improper or dangerous. In that case we should point it out. But in most of life's simply annoying or uncomfortable situations, we will be doing ourselves and others a favor by 'grinning and bearing it.'
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Do you think being more connected to God could affect the frequency of one's complaints?
A. A major principle of God-connection is to realize that everything He gives us in life is with a plan to be for our ultimate best good. The more we internalize that, the closer we will feel to God and the less we will be inclined to complain.
Q. Our sages describe true wealth as having nothing to do with money, but rather a state of being happy with one's present situation. How do you understand this?
A. People seek wealth to attain a feeling of 'having as much as they want.' Therefore it's obvious that one who has attained that feeling is already wealthy, even if he has little, whereas someone who feels a lack is in a sense poor, no matter how much he has.