Tell it to the tattle-phone

Regarding the Journey

Several years back, there was a popular movement to stop complaining for 21 days. It was a challenge people would give themselves. Whole companies would get on board and challenge their employees to participate. The challenge had fairly simply rules, on the surface:

1. Get (and wear) an official Complaint Free Bracelet.

2. Switch the bracelet to the other wrist with every spoken or written complaint.

3. Stay with it until you go 21 days in row without complaining and become a certified Complaint Free person.

This challenge seemed to have it all, and just three rules! And one of the rules was to simply get some bling. The bling was important, not only for the creator’s bottom line, but for accountability. It served as a reminder of the task you’ve undertaken. It told those around you, “Hey, I’m trying to do this and I’m announcing it by wearing this purple bracelet. So, I’m basically giving you permission to correct my behavior as a way to help me grow to be a better person.”

Step two was the tricky one. You were to change the wrist the bracelet rested on every time you forgot and aired your complaint. It messed up a lot of people. That was the genius of the movement.

It seemed easy. It seemed like we could all live in a paradise of tranquility if we just got everyone around us to commit to this certification program. We could almost collectively hear the din of chorus music. More than 14 million bracelets were ordered. Popular personalities from Oprah to Oz sung its praises. Dr. Maya Angelou even wrote the forward for Will Bowen’s international bestselling book “A Complaint Free World,” which, by the way, sold over 4 million copies and was printed in over 35 languages. At last count, 106 countries were inundated with purple rubber bracelets, at a mere $7.97 each. A literal purple wave covered the globe.

If you were one of the dedicated, after 21 days in a row of no complaining you became a certified Complaint Free person.

On the surface, the program seemed fun and harmless, and could ultimately serve to make communication among us more pleasant. But did it work? If the noise I hear coming from today’s news programs is any indication, I don’t think it stuck.

Just the other day, I listened to a two-year-old podcast from This American Life entitled, “No Fair!” It was, at times, delightful. But moreover, it was eye-opening. It held such static truths about the human condition. The segments focused on a pre-K classroom, an NBA replay room, and the Constitution of the United States, specifically the Ninth Amendment. Each story, in its own way, was about grievances. Someone was wronged by another and wanted justice.

In the pre-K classroom, the teacher, in an effort to squash the incessant complaints of this age group, installed an old tissue box on the wall with an attached plastic phone receiver. She explained to her students that this was the new tattle-phone. If they needed to tattle, tell it to the phone. Like the complaint-free bracelets, it was brilliant, at first. But after a month, the students ceased used of the tattle-phone. Why? It didn’t fix the situation. Seamus still had issues with sharing. Nathan never did apologize. Eli still hit.

Fairness. That is the common denominator in life. We desire the world to be fair. We complain when we judge a situation to be biased. We want to be heard. We need to feel that others see our point of view and agree we’ve been mistreated. We want justice, absolution, love and understanding. None of those things are out of line in the scheme of life. So why don’t more people feel accepted and heard? Could it be that those around us are so busy airing their own versions of neglect that can’t pause to take in another’s mistreatment?

We are all tired. We are all trying to be our best selves. One T-shirt I’ve seen says it best, “I’m not saying it’s your fault. I’m saying I’m blaming you.”

The big question is, can the world be fair and just for all? No. Not as long as we are individuals with the right to our own views and customs. Perhaps what we need to work on is acceptance and understanding. Rather than highlight what is different among us, let’s focus on working together to make our environments the best they can be. If everyone took a minute to think through how what they said or wrote might impact another, to consider others’ feelings first, we might just love a little more.

Lesslee Dort is a board-certified patient advocate who firmly believes knowledge is power when it comes to being in control of one’s health. She spends her days helping others navigate their health care and her free time exploring. Reach Lesslee via email at lesslee@friendstogethermi.org. Read her here the third Thursday of each month.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $4.62/week.

Subscribe Today