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by Brenda Looper | May 19, 2021 at 3:47 a.m.
Brenda Looper

We all have them in our lives: relatives, friends, acquaintances or even strangers who are happiest when they're making others miserable by complaining ... about anything.

Everyone in my family knows who ours is; once he gets started, you can leave the room, come back half an hour later, and he'll still be ranting (true story from a holiday gathering years ago when someone, regrettably, mentioned the name of a politician he despised).

It's the sort of thing that brings to mind that "Simpsons" episode that launched 1,000 memes by including a newspaper clipping with a picture of Grandpa Abe and the headline "Old man yells at cloud."

Sometimes there are legitimate complaints, but like the boy who cried wolf, no one's going to take them seriously because of all the previous times the complainer took things out of context, didn't understand the situation, or just felt like passing on false information.

So why do people do this? Are they bored? Lonely? Did someone take their sled away when they were a kid? (OK, yes, I rewatched "Citizen Kane" recently.)

Part of it is most likely simple attention-seeking. Once upon a time, that would be positive attention. Now, however, in the era of grievance politics, any attention is good as far as they're concerned, no matter how much they may annoy or even harass others.

Sometimes the person is a narcissist, and a high-conflict person to boot, who is always looking for people to blame. For what? Anything, but many are very keen on playing victim as soon as you put your foot down. You can try to set limits, correct misinformation and try to ignore them, but once an inch is given, some will continue to escalate. In many cases, you're stuck with them with no good options. (Women, especially women journalists, can give you lots of examples.)

In 2011, psychologist Guy Winch wrote in Psychology Today that many chronic complainers believe their lives are full of hardships, but they aren't really looking for advice or solutions. "Even when your advice would actually resolve a problem, chronic complainers will not be especially happy to hear it: Anything that takes away some recognition of their 'hardship' will be experienced as threatening to their identity and even their sense of self."

Winch wrote, "In the majority of situations (there are some obvious exceptions), you should avoid offering advice or solutions and stick to sympathy and emotional validation."

When that doesn't work, what then?

Do you give them the attention they desire? Easier said than done sometimes, as some of them don't seem to understand you have other commitments that may take precedence.

Should you ignore them? You can try, but some are especially persistent.

Do you just keep letting these guys yell at clouds? Probably. As long as they're mostly harmless, anyway.

Just keep an eye out, and let me know if you have a good way to deal with them.

A note to readers: A former attorney says that I falsely claimed last week that sworn affidavits are hearsay. In context, I was referring specifically to supposedly sworn affidavits in the 60-plus election lawsuits from the Trump campaign when I said, "no, most of those 'sworn affidavits' weren't filed in court, and are considered hearsay."

I apologize if anyone took away the wrong impression, as such affidavits are used in cases. I probably should have qualified the remark, as in "at least some are considered hearsay." Since the majority of the affidavits in the campaign's cases aren't available because they haven't been filed in court or otherwise released to the public, we only have the word of the legal team on their contents.

However, as The Washington Post reported in November, a judge in Michigan dismissed a complaint as "inadmissible hearsay within hearsay." Many of the affidavits we've heard about in the election lawsuits, like that in the Michigan case, were people saying they heard someone else say something (the very definition of hearsay). Some of those claims heard in court were dismissed as inadmissible or not credible. Others signed affidavits claiming they believed their votes for Trump and Pence weren't counted, but they had no actual evidence to support those claims when pressed by judges.

As for those harsh penalties for lying in an affidavit, Aaron Blake of The Post wrote: "As the Trump campaign will remind you, these are sworn statements. But according to legal experts, the jeopardy faced by those behind them is relatively minimal.

"'There is a remote chance that sworn statements (if they are actually sworn statements--most documents that appear to be sworn don't count within the meaning of the statute) could subject the declarant to some exposure under the perjury statutes,' said Lisa Kern Griffin, an expert on evidence at Duke University, in an email. 'But perjury prosecutions are rare and almost never arise from statements outside of the context of proceedings in which oaths are formally administered--such as depositions, congressional testimony, grand jury proceedings, or trial testimony.'"

So if there's little chance of prosecution ... hmmm ...

Assistant Editor Brenda Looper is editor of the Voices page. Read her blog at Email her at


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