I attended a college football game with my husband and some friends last weekend. So as not to get any football fans riled up, let’s call the opposing teams Team A and Team B. Team A was the clear favorite and was favored to win by over 20 points. Team B, however, fought hard and ultimately only lost by a few points. The Razorba …ahem… Team B fans were very excited the entire game and were understandably disappointed when they lost in the last few minutes. That said, it was the way that the Team B fans handled their disappointment that really caught my interest. While they were sad about the loss, they did not really complain. In fact, they seemed downright happy their team put up such a good fight. Most even walked out of the stadium with their heads held high. The virtual absence of complaining by the Team B fans was such a refreshing change of pace. In fact, I did not even hear a single Team B fan lobbying to fire their coach or bench any players. I thought to myself, are the Team B fans just the most gracious college football losers of all time? Why didn’t they complain?
(Football fans, please note that I attended neither school and wish both teams well this season. That said, I admit I was pretty excited about another football upset the same weekend only a few hours away – WHO DAT!)
It turns out there is a growing body of research on complaining and the effects it has on both the human brain and psychology of the complainer and those listening to the complainer. According to Psychology Today, there are three distinct types of complainers: the chronic complainer, the venting complainer and the instrumental complainer. No surprise by the name, the chronic complainer is never satisfied and tends to focus on the negative. It has been suggested by some research that chronic complaining can actually “re-wire” the brain so that negative thinking orientations are ingrained in the complainer’s thinking. Of course, this rewiring can be reversed if the chronic complainer chose to take action.
A venting complainer is one who expresses dissatisfaction with the hopes of having that dissatisfaction validated. Rather than solve a problem, the person venting wants others to understand and sympathize with their anger or frustration. Some surmise that venting is a way to unload the stresses of daily life. Unfortunately, studies have shown that these types of complaints make both the complainer and the receiver feel worse after the vent session.
The third type of complainer makes “instrumental complaints” which are intended to highlight and then solve a problem. Unsurprisingly studies have shown those who complain mostly in instances that could result in a positive change are happier than their counterparts who complain more often and without a strategy. The takeaway is that complaining with the intent of effecting positive change and with a strategy to do so will leave a person much happier than just venting.
Community Foundation of North Louisiana has been publishing Community Counts since 2007, a report that examines Shreveport-Bossier MSA (metropolitan statistical area) data in six primary categories: Population, Economic Well-Being, Human Capital, Health, Physical Environment, and Social Environment. The scientific collection of data over time reveals emerging trends of both progresses made versus areas needing more attention. Accurate data is essential to help the Community Foundation and all community leaders set priorities, track progress, formulate policy and make resource allocation decisions. On Oct. 10, 2019 the Community Foundation will release its newest Community Counts report. The report includes both the most recent data along with ten-year trends. For the first time in its publishing history, the report reveals the Shreveport-Bossier MSA is ranked first relative to three separate positive indicators. While this is cause for congratulations and celebration, we must not lose sight of the other data indicators that are not positive and need more attention.
In dealing with complex community problems like poverty, I am frequently asked whether we at the Foundation feel overwhelmed when looking at negative data trends. As my predecessor Paula Hickman likes to say, you can’t hide from the data. Instead, you just have to deal with it. Like an “instrumental complainer,” solving community problems requires us to identify both the problem and the causes of the problem that are within the sphere of our influence or control. Only then can we implement strategies that will effect positive change. While it is easy to get overwhelmed, we must stay laser focused on what we can change and work within the constraints of other things currently beyond our reach.
Perhaps what the Team B fans knew is that complaining at the end of the game would not have changed the outcome. They did not have an expectation of winning and, as such, were pleasantly surprised with losing by such a close margin. I assume this week their coach will go home, look at the game film (data), determine where his team could have done better, and then implement interventions to do so this weekend. While our community is dealing with more complexities than slant routs and leaving games up to the kicker, just like a coach we must use data to change our community for the better.
Community Counts 2019 can be found here on Oct. 10: cfnla.org/data
This article was written by CFNLA CEO Kristi Gustavson and originally published in the Shreveport Times on October 6, 2019.