(RNS) The southbound Acela from New York Penn Station could go faster.
If the roadbed were smoother, if the stops weren’t so frequent -- you know, the usual if-onlys. But it is what it is. And it’s fine.
Penn Station could be cleaner, less disorderly, less like a cattle pen. But for the busiest train station in North America, serving 600,000 rail passengers a day, it does fine.
I can think of many things that could be better, from Congress to professional football to taxicabs. But on the whole, things work OK. Why, then, so much whining about things not working?
Yes, I know that we only make progress when creative people see problems and try to solve them. I also know that the shortcoming that mildly annoys me is a major source of suffering for someone else.
But it seems to me we have become a whining culture. We feel a pinch and whine about it. We hear someone saying words we disapprove, and we whine about it. A politician falls short, an underpaid customer service agent takes too long, our Wi-Fi network runs slowly, the new smartphone isn't 100 percent perfect, and we whine about it. When did we decide we were entitled to perfection?
Whining is the tool of the powerless. Children, for example, feel helpless, so they whine, hoping parents will be irritated enough to give them their way. But the powerful whine, too, as when politicians track their press clippings or well-paid managers complain about rank-and-file wages. How many people with good jobs and adequate paychecks whine about stress and long hours?
Some situations, of course, are oppressive and justify complaint. But it's hard to sort those out for attention when we are whining about everything. The whining of the haves, for example, drowns out the legitimate complaints of the have-nots. Listen to the mega-wealthy whine about capital gains taxes and estate taxes while people just beyond their walls are suffering for lack of income, nutrition and hope.
Whining is a form of narcissism. Whining makes me the center of everything. I hear this constantly in the religious world. Worshippers whine about the length of a sermon without appreciating the effort put into it and the possibility that someone else is benefiting. Older constituents whine about children, conveniently forgetting that their children once made noise in church. Message: It's all about me.
What's the answer to whining? Maturity, for one thing. It's time for a lot of people to grow up and stop behaving like children. Also, a perspective leading to gratitude. Many people don't see how good they have it and, therefore, feel no gratitude, just deprivation. One reason giving to churches has plummeted is a prevailing attitude of not enough.
I think we need to "stiffen our spines." Not in the phony whining-driven rituals of macho gun toting, but in the gumption that accepts challenge and endures not getting one's way.
(Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the president of Morning Walk Media and publisher of Fresh Day online magazine. His website is www.morningwalkmedia.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @tomehrich.)
YS/MG END EHRICH