Kvetching and Apologies

I opened an email today to the enticing headline “Don’t Forget to Kvetch!” and realized how it was the other side of the coin of what I was planning on blogging about today.

First, to the planned blog–Australia last week officially apologized for its mistreatment of the Aboriginal population in Australia. The list of misdeeds is long: dispossession of lands, lack of rights and, most egregiously, a policy of placing Aboriginal children with white families or in state institutions in order to assimilate them. The issue of a national apology in Australia has long been contentious with some arguing that the apology was necessary in order to move forward and others arguing that these misdeeds were in the past. There was also concern, much like the concern with apologizing for medical mistakes, that an apology would open Australia to huge claims for compensation. Jonathan Cohen and others have written about how, in fact, a policy of apologies do not lead an increase in litigation costs and have reduced these costs. We will have to see the impact of the Australian apology on both the country’s relationship with its indigenous population and the country’s legal system before determining who might be right in this particular situation. It might also be telling for other countries as they contemplate national apologies.

Next, what do apologies and kvetching have to do with one another? Some critics of apology in Australia and elsewhere argue that we need to move on, apologies are too little too late and, besides which, it is generally not the current generation’s fault for things that may have happened in the past. (One could also think of the debate in the US regarding any apologies for slavery or to Native Americans.) But, as personal coach Deborah Riegel argues, merely kvetching rarely solves the problems we face. We need to create our own opportunities to fix that which is driving us nuts.

As she writes, “How many things are you frustrated, anxious or angry about that you might have been willing to forget, put aside or ignore, but you wrote yourself a mental note to NOT let it go? Things like: a disagreement with a co-worker; the “dream” job you almost got, but didn’t; the “one that got away.” Yes, we tolerate, put up with, accept, take on, and are dragged down by people’s behavior, situations, unmet needs, crossed boundaries, unfinished business, frustrations, problems, and even our own behavior. Some of it is worth the battle — but do you know which ones to keep in play and which ones to let go? And what is it costing you in time, energy and productivity to keep these “tolerations” active?”

Her website has a list of 200+ items that we should deal with rather than sit and kvetch about. Some of these are hilarious– “gophers tunneling in my new front lawn” or “having a saddle and riding boots and no horse”–and some are much more serious– “living with a constant inner sense of deep frustration” or “doing without an office assistant when I need one.”

Her advice in using this list is that, “Just becoming aware of and articulating [these frustrations] will bring them to the forefront of your mind and you’ll naturally start handling, eliminating, fixing, growing through, and resolving these tolerations.”

In other words, there is a value in kvetching but even more value in moving forward–and if an apology is necessary toward that end, we serve ourselves and our clients well by remembering that.

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