I never noticed it before.
The way a lot of people get satisfaction out of moaning and groaning… about pretty much anything, but especially about their financial situation or how terrible business is, or how hard life is, or how crappy their job or boss is. Now we all have hard times and some things that happen are terrible but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about a social phenomenon, a common one.
I noticed it today.
I wasn’t eavesdropping, honest. I was sitting in my favorite coffee shop doing my thing when a conversation behind me crept into my awareness. There was the usual small talk, greeting, how ya doing stuff and then it just naturally digressed to how slow business is, how high taxes are, the horrid clients and how nobody wants to pay for anything anymore, how expensive everything is, how impossible it is to make any money in this economy, how there’s no competing with products that are made in another (3rd world) country, blah, blah, blah… not once did I hear either of them offer a solution to any of the problems.
The thing that caught my attention though was the subtle excitement that went along with this conversation. There was a quality of weird joy that went with this shared commiseration.
It creeped me out.
I asked myself if I had experienced this before and I have to admit, yes, I have heard it before, many times, in many contexts. Admittedly, I’ve done it myself. (hangs head in shame)
It’s unbelievably negative. It’s depressing. What’s the reward in it? It was obvious that they were getting something pleasurable out of it. There was a sort of peer approval in it. What is it that gives people pleasure in focusing on the negative? What social payoff is there in it? What affect does this mutual misery have on success, or failure?
It sounded to me that accepting defeat was supported, even encouraged. Is there some sort of subtle social pressure to fail, to remain where we are, to not succeed? Do we make other feel safe by not succeeding? Do we make others feel safe by commiserating with them? Are we less threatening? Do we get brownie points?
Whatever the sociological reason for it I can’t see it as anything but destructive.
Any success guru or system emphasizes the power of positive thinking, of seeking the opportunity present in adversity, of becoming a problem solver yet what I see around me at times is the exact opposite. It’s the belief that problems are overwhelming and insurmountable and then that belief is shared and amplified by this strange sort of mutual complaining and grumbling. Try offering a solution and the reaction is almost hostile.
I’ve seen it in my business. I do graphics and marketing, but my best skills will never overcome this mindset. Clients read somewhere that branding, or advertising or a marketing plan will make their business successful… and it can if they are willing to change their attitude along with the needs of their business. But if they believe, deep down, that it’s impossible, or that their lack of success is entirely caused by events outside of themselves nothing I do for them is going to be effective for their business, not for long.
There’s a lot of self sabotage out there. And… it’s supported by others. It’s almost ritualistic.
However… I believe we can learn from anything, even the negative stuff, and if we really want to succeed then this behavior is a lesson in how not to be. Becoming aware of the subtle ways in which we support one another or not is important.
Allowing ourselves to commiserate with others over the dreadful state of affairs and how it’s impossible for us to succeed, to believe and promote that circumstances are insurmountable, or allowing someone else to try to pull us into that kind of thinking is something to be avoided, at all costs.
It won’t get us anywhere but having more of these conversations.