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10.22.07

Never Complain. Never Explain.

Christine Comaford-Lynch relates the following story in her book Rules for Renegades:

There was once a monk who lived in a tiny hut on a hill overlooking a village. He kept to himself, only coming down to the village for food. In that village a young woman had become visibly pregnant, and when her screaming father insisted on knowing who her lover was, she named the monk. An angry mob marched up the hill and stormed the monk’s hut.

“You are a disgrace to Buddhism!” they shouted. “All these years we’ve given you alms and now you impregnate one of our women! You should be ashamed! How dare you call yourself a holy man!”

“Is that so?” the monk said, and returned to his meditation.

Time passed, and the child was born. The young woman’s father again marched up the hill and handed the baby to the monk. “Here. You take care of your bastard child. You caused this problem, you live with the consequences.”

“Is that so?” The monk said. He accepted the child and returned to his meditation.

After a few weeks the young woman was overcome with remorse for falsely fingering the monk. She told her father that the monk was not her lover after all, that her true lover had left, and she wanted to raise the child on her own. Again her father marched up the hill, this time with townspeople in tow.

“Please forgive our mistake. We are so sorry. What a truly holy man you are for tolerating our cruel words and caring for this child. We will relieve you now of this burden. The Buddha himself is singing your praises in the higher worlds, all the higher beings are smiling down upon you, no greater monk has ever lived.”

“Is that so?” The monk said, and return to his meditation.

Whether people are praising you or trashing you, neither changes your intrinsic value. Don’t be easily swayed. It reminds me of a statement Henry Ford II once famously said, "Never complain. Never explain." It's good advice. (Although, he probably meant it more as a corollary to the Fifth Amendment than good advice for leaders.)

Complaining is the outward expression of inner frustration. A complaint acknowledges that something is not as we think it should be. (And that may or may not be true. Quite often we lack all of the pertinent information.) The problem is that we often begin to complain as if that will lead to a solution. It rarely does. Complaining is outward focused and is a form of blaming. The issue is internal. If you can fix the problem, then you should quietly fix it. If you can’t, you should change your perspective on it and move on.

Complainers generally have a lot to complain about because they are in fact, complainers. Complaining, explaining and excuse-making extend the time you are embroiled in the issue. It amplifies frustration—your own and others—spreads discontent and discord and generally makes you unpleasant. Jane Austin observed that "those who do not complain are never pitied." Pity however, is not the goal of a well-adjusted person let alone a leader. Of more value is novelist Cesare Pavese comment that "one stops being a child when one realizes that telling one's troubles does not make things better." Recognize your part, take responsibility and move on.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 10:47 AM
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