Thursday, June 20, 2024
Laugh a LittleOpinion/Column

To give up for Lent: bitching, moaning and whining

The original Loonie Jar that helped me break the habit of griping, grumbling and whining. I still have it, and I still use it. Photo: Taxi News

Few business people are actually aware of how much time they and their colleagues lose to gripe sessions. By committing to resist the temptation to be drawn into the group gripe sessions, you will notice two things: first, that it is culturally very popular to be “one of the gang” when the whining starts; and second, an incredible amount of time and energy is wasted when a team engages in what we at Carnegie refer to as “driving the BMW” (bitching, moaning and whining.)
In one of my most successful initiatives ever, a decade ago, I gave up for Lent grumbling, griping, and whining of any kind. I made the public commitment on Ash Wednesday, and proceeded to spend the next six weeks studiously revisiting the urge to join negative conversations and whining sessions.
Over the weeks I was involved in a number of very complicated, contentious, stressful strategy meetings. It was challenge enough to stay focused and get productive work done; and the second any one at any boardroom table started driving the BMW, all progress would grind to a halt as meetings disintegrated into whining sessions.
“I’m very sorry,” I was forced to apologize on several occasions. “I gave up grumbling, griping, and whining of any kind for Lent. I’d love to join you in this conversation, but I’m afraid it’s against my religion. Would you mind if we just got back to work?”
In 100 per cent of situations where I brought up my Lenten sacrifice, everyone in the room took it completely seriously. A few fellow Catholics would nod their heads and murmur gravely, instantly understanding that such a commitment had to be respected and honoured. Who could go on griping and whining when it violated such an obviously sacrosanct religious belief? No one! And on we’d go, getting back to the business at hand, BMW parked for the duration.
My Lenten sacrifice worked brilliantly on two levels: it signalled clearly and immediately to all concerned that I would have nothing to do with the whining session; and, it actually worked to make me aware of how much BMW-driving I did myself, and helped me break the habit almost completely.
I have to confess that  I not only now give up grumbling, griping and whining of any kind every Lent (I will have to find something new one of these years) but I frequently re-state the commitment at the start of very big initiative. During one important election campaign I ran, I put a “loonie jar” on the table and asked staff to hold me accountable by making me put a dollar in the jar every time I engaged in any negative talk or whining.
I carefully typed up a label for the jar  which read: “I am personally and professionally committed to: maintaining  a positive attitude, leading by example, working with enthusiasm, and spending absolutely zero minutes in a day criticizing, condemning or complaining.
“I need your help to maintain this commitment. If you catch me driving the BMW, nail me on it and I will put $1 in this jar. All funds will go to finance beer or other refreshments on suitable occasions. Thanks for holding me accountable.”
I brought the labelled jar into the campaign office and with great ceremony, read the label out loud to my assembled team and then signed my name to it in front of them.
Imagine my surprise and delight when one of my most negative and argumentative volunteers stepped forward and declared, “I want to sign it, too!”
“Wow!” I responded, thinking fast. “I was expecting to apply this only to myself – but if you want to get on board, so much the better!”
He signed his name to the loonie  jar label in thick, dark magic marker. For the first few days, whenever he fell back into the habit of grumbling, other campaign workers would leap on the opportunity to tell him “You’re driving the BMW!” and insist he put a loonie in the jar.
Within a short while, however, his entire tone and tenor improved to the point that we could go days at a time without having to listen to the negative tirades that had been commonplace before the advent of the loonie jar.
Even our candidate got into the spirit of things and dropped in a loonie one night on his way out of the office.
“Why are you doing that?” I asked. “You haven’t been griping.”
He paused to think, then explained: “Guilty conscience!” he exclaimed.
–Rita Smith