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Senior Correspondent

"Man invented language to satisfy his deep need to complain." — Lily Tomlin

A funny thing happened the moment I hit the send button for our recent coaching column, entitled "A Harm Word," where I shared childhood memories of my great-grandmother Belle. It seems Belle was a virtuous woman on most counts, but she somehow managed to alienate neighbors and family members alike by speaking harm words to them and about them, and then being completely mystified about the ensuing drama.

Back to the funny thing. That morning, just as I was getting ready to hit "send," we learned that something out of the blue and seemingly irrational was about to negatively impact our little corner of the universe.  And wouldn't you know, out of my mouth flew a whole slew of harm words … followed by drama, drama, drama. It was as if grandma Belle had returned for a moment to remind me that I am just as guilty of using harm words as she. Got it, Belle!

Several of you shared your own harm word stories with us after that issue. We laughed with you about the various grandma Belle figures in your lives. And a couple of you owned up to actually being grandma Belle. I'm feeling better about myself already, thank you.

Our deep seeded instinct to complain and criticize can feel oh so good in the moment, but very probably will have repercussions or "unintended consequences" as we like to say these days.

According to Pastor Will Bowen, author of "A Complaint Free World," there are two things upon which most of us can agree.

  1.     There is too much complaining in the world.
  2.     The state of the world is not the way we would like it to be.

In the summer of 2006, Pastor Bowen challenged his Kansas City congregation to take the 21 day challenge. Folks were asked to give up complaining, criticism and gossip for 21 days. It takes 21 days of practice to form a new habit we are told, so his logic was that after 21 days the "harm word habit" would be broken and replaced with a more positive and productive way of handling interpersonal challenges and disappointments.

Well, it wasn't all that easy for Pastor Bowen nd his flock to break their addiction to criticizing, complaining and gossiping. It was way harder than they thought it would be. They needed help. A church member came up with the idea of wearing a "complaint-free" wrist bracelet as a reminder. When you catch yourself complaining, etc., you move the bracelet to the other wrist and start the 21 day challenge all over again. Immediate consequence. Visual reminder. It worked.    

It took months for most of the flock to break the harm word habit and move into the complaint free zone. But, they persisted and ultimately pulled it off. Pastor Bowen wrote about the experience, and the word got out … all over the world. Today, there is a worldwide Complaint Free Movement, which you can learn more about, and join, by visiting www.acomplaintfreeworld.org.

I am not sure what grandma Belle would think about taking the complaint-free challenge, but I'd venture to say, she'd be up for it. And all of this has got me to thinking that I'm ready to break the harm word habit myself. My bracelet goes on today … just as soon as I fuss with Hank about not filling the birdbath.

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