Hard habit to break


  • Opinion
  • Monday, 13 Aug 2007

BUT THEN AGAIN WITH MARY SCHNEIDER

You moron! Get back into your own lane!” I shouted as a wayward driver tried to cut in front of my car a few weeks ago.

My 15-year-old, who was sitting in the passenger seat next to me, ignored my tirade. I’m ashamed to say she’s so used to her mother’s on-the-road complaints that she probably thinks that’s how most drivers react when someone does something to upset them.

I suspect my vocal driving style also accounts for my son’s behaviour behind the steering wheel. A week after he’d obtained his driving licence, I noticed that he’d already developed the habit of castigating other drivers for their transgressions.

As I was sitting in his car one day, I complained to him about his complaining. He gripped the steering wheel a little tighter, shot me a sidelong glance and said, quite calmly, “I have never once complained about your complaining.”

Immediately recognising my own hypocrisy, I kept quiet.

Shortly after that incident, I came across an article about an American man who is on a mission to make the world a complaint-free place. To demonstrate his commitment to the eradication of complaints, gossip and sarcasm, Pastor Will Bowen gave every member in his church a purple bracelet and offered them a challenge.

Those who took up his challenge agreed to wear the bracelet and move it to the other wrist whenever they found themselves kvetching. The ultimate goal was for them to keep the bracelet on the same wrist for 21 consecutive days.

Bowen fixed the length of time at 21 days, because he’d heard scientists say that it takes that long to change a habit.

Since then, almost six million people from more than 80 countries have requested a purple bracelet from Bowen’s church. There are even some folks in Malaysia walking around with a Complaint Free Bracelet on their wrist.

I could have ordered a Complaint Free Bracelet online, but I had one teensy problem with that: it would take a while for the bracelet to arrive in Penang, and I wanted to stop complaining immediately. So I did the next best thing, I pulled on a regular rubber band.

There was one problem with my rubber band: it dug into my flesh and began to irritate the hell out of me after half an hour. Still, I didn’t complain. Well, at least not until my son caught sight of it.

“Why have you got that rubber band on your wrist?” he asked.

“It’s a reminder for me not to complain so much.”

After I’d told him about the campaign behind the bracelet, he laughed loudly. “What a crazy idea. Do you honestly think it’s that easy to change your habits?”

“Yes, and a little enthusiasm from my children might just help me a little.”

“Is that a complaint I hear?”

I switched the rubber band to my other wrist, more out of relief from the pain than compliance with the rules.

The following day, I went to a shopping mall and spent three ringgit on a green bracelet that had the words “Make a Difference” written on it. As long as it didn’t dig into my flesh, I didn’t really care what the bracelet represented because it was only going to be used as a reminder.

While I’m on the subject, and this isn’t a complaint, just a passing comment, I get the feeling that too many companies are cashing in on these coloured bracelets.

Of course, there are some worthy causes out there that can benefit from the money raised from the sale of these bracelets, but when fast food restaurants start selling their own bracelets, I get the feeling that their motives aren’t entirely altruistic.

But I digress.

With my green bracelet on my wrist, I was excited about the prospect of getting through a few complaint-free days. As it turned out, though, I couldn’t even get through a few minutes without whining.

It all started when I went to the shopping mall’s car park, shortly after I’d purchased my bracelet, only to discover that someone had parked their car in such a manner that it would probably take a 20-point turn to get out of my parking bay.

“Just keep cool!” I told myself as I prepared to inch my car out.

Of course, when the owner of the obstructing vehicle arrived on the scene a few seconds later, I wound down my window and gave him a piece of my mind.

So far, my longest complaint-free period has lasted only three days. It’s just so incredibly hard to stop kvetching.

Not that I’m complaining, mind you.

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