Thursday, March 30, 2006

Stop Whining and Start Moving

I have nothing against complaints. Complaints are society’s quality control mechanism, targeting ineffective things for improvement. More importantly, righteous protest is the first stop on the road to freedom. From the Exodus to the civil rights movement, outcries against injustice are a call to responsibility.

Yet there are complaints, and there are complaints. Many of today’s protests are old fashioned whining, with paranoia and self pity masquerading as calls for justice. A few insensitive cartoons in an obscure Danish paper, and all of a sudden you have a worldwide cause celebre. A public figure makes an errant remark, and all of sudden, there are accusations of anti-Semitism or sexism or racism. These complaints are more about making noise than pursuing justice.

Whining is a form self pity, and a way to shift the blame to someone else. This way, we are no longer responsible or in control. And it is natural. We all like to indulge in self pitying fantasies of helplessness.

So how do you break out of a whining spell? Do you need to read books or attend workshops? Actually it’s very simple. You just have to move on. When the Jews were being chased by the Egyptians at the Red Sea, they cried out to God, paralyzed by uncertainty. God’s answer was simple: "Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on”. God’s advice, to rephrase it in a less formal way, is to “stop whining and start moving”.

God tells the beleaguered Jews at the Red Sea to move on, because no one should ever believe that they are helpless. The moment we start whining, we must find ways to take action, any action, to change our circumstances. Even in the bleakest moments, a person can choose his destiny.

I draw inspiration from people who made the best of awful situations, like Rami Harpaz. Harpaz was an Israeli pilot who was an Egyptian prisoner of war for 3 years, along with 9 other Israelis. During this time, they conducted classes for each other, and worked on plans for their lives once they were freed. Then one day, a parcel arrived with a copy of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, and they immediately started to work on a translation. Together, the ten P.O.W’s completed a translation, which is now one of two standard Hebrew translations of Tolkien. They may have been prisoners, but they refused to give up. Harpaz put it best in a recent interview: 'Falling into captivity presents one with a number of choices. You can either pity yourself and wallow in misery, or do something to organize your time as constructively as conditions allow”. His advice is useful to anyone, no matter what their situation: when you’re feeling sorry for yourself, you have to stop whining and start moving.

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