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OPINION | MIKE MASTERSON: For the whiners

by Mike Masterson | September 20, 2022 at 4:53 a.m.


Editor's note: Mike Masterson is taking the day off. The original version of this column was published Oct. 9, 2011.

You've undoubtedly known your share of whiners who continuously find ways to fault others for their problems.

They have no trouble venting negativity and personal woes all over anyone who might be kind (and unfortunate) enough to listen.

These folks are in the same class with those who won't acknowledge their mistakes. Instead of simply 'fessing up and apologizing, they deny and make counter-accusations.

Fortunately, it doesn't take long to identify such people through their words and deeds. Then most folks I know (including me) find ways to steer clear out of self-preservation.

A woman named Paula Renaye knows and understands this gloomy approach to existence. She was a whiner once upon a time until a friend showed her what she was doing to her life and those she cared about.

Renaye says she'd eagerly complain to anyone in earshot, even the hapless checker at the market if that person appeared willing to listen.

"I didn't realize it at the time," she says, "but I was that whiner. I complained incessantly about how horrible things were for me, how none of it was my fault and that there was absolutely nothing I could do change it. And I was convinced I was right."

Then one morning, her closest friend had enjoyed all she could of Renaye's storm clouds. She stopped her mid-whine to say: "Isn't it great that for the rest of your life, no matter who you tell that story to, they'll say 'you poor thing.' And you, my friend, can be a victim forever."

Those wise words were enough, Renaye says. Suddenly, a ray of sunlight beamed through the thick cloud cover. "It was definitely a defining moment, and I couldn't get mad about it because I knew it was true," she explains.

It's really something that when we hear the truth, many of us recognize it out of the sheer intellectual honesty that apparently is programmed into our DNA.

The revelation sent Renaye along a different road. She stopped harping and instead wrote a book called "The Hardline Self Help Handbook."

"Choosing the hard-line approach to self-improvement takes courage," Renaye writes. "It's hard to take that first look in the mirror and not blink. But it's absolutely essential. It's also critical to remember that while this is about facing hard truths, it's not about beating ourselves up over where we are in this moment."

She even developed a road map to lead such people out of their dark forests of perpetual woe. She calls it the "Stick and Carrot" formula. The stick: Denial plus delusion equates to enduring and increasing pain throughout life.

"If you keep ignoring reality and continue to create delusions so you can live in denial, your pain will get worse. Even though it may give you the illusion of relief in the short term, reality always pops up and things go bad."

She said that at some point a person either reaches his threshold of pain tolerance "and snaps like a twig; or falls into giving up to become sad and bitter, blaming others and perpetually complaining to anyone who'll listen."

The carrot: Self-respect plus action equal joy (that also happens to be my late mother's favorite word).

"Freeing yourself from an unhappy situation will not only relieve you of that internal turmoil, but will also clear a space for joy that you can't have now because your energy is focused on avoiding pain," she said.

"Once you make friends with reality, reclaim your self-respect and do what you need to do, you'll be amazed at how good you feel and wonder why you didn't do it sooner. You'll also be amazed at how much time there is for fun and happiness, since your world no longer revolves around how you can fix or spin your unhappy situation."

In a refurbished reality, reformed whiners no longer need an enabling spin doctor to make unacceptable behavior seem acceptable, because "you'll be living in, and enjoying, every moment."

Sounds like this woman is simply advising all whiners out there to take a long, honest look in the mirror, then buck up, close their trap doors and begin changing their own lives.

The path toward a good life can come from friendships, or changes in attitude or the psychological ruts that have come to feel comfortable but in reality are webs that bind people forever in the shadows.

Lose weight. Stop self-indulging in every way, including the pity parties. Take dance lessons. Go to church. Form fresh, positive friendships. And treat others exactly as you want them to treat you.

Good grief, people, buck up, will ya? We only get this one go-around. Well, that's what I get out of Renaye's message.

It reminds me a little of my friend Bob Stone from Harrison, who was listening to his golfing partner drone on about one personal woe after another.

After a couple of minutes, Bob stopped his buddy and said, "You probably haven't noticed this, but I'm over here quietly dealing with problems of my own." 'Nuff said.


Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.


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