No Whining

"If you have time to whine and complain about something then you have time to do something about it." -- Anthony J. D'Angelo

In the back of our car, Evie and I have a small pillow which we often use as a headrest to help us take a nap when the other person is driving. It has two words prominently affixed to it: No whining. On occasion we factiously refer to it when we have guests riding with us by saying, "We chose that pillow specifically because we knew you would be riding with us." It gives all of us a good laugh.

Lily Tomlin has said "Man invented language to satisfy his deep need to complain." Unfortunately, comedienne Lily Tomlin's words are often more accurate than we prefer to admit. Or as the American poet Randall Jarrell observed, "The people who live in a golden age usually go around complaining how yellow everything looks."

Actual whining, however, is certainly not a laughing matter. The story is told of Jones, a wealthy financier, who had on many occasion in the good old days -- when trains were flourishing and coaches were the last word in technological luxury -- crossed the country by Pullman. He was well-known and well served and was accustomed to every convenience, particularly when dining. Imagine his exasperation, then, when it turned out that the chef did not have his favorite on the train: Tutti-frutti ice cream.

"No tutti-frutti?" he shouted, "I always have tutti-frutti."

"I'm sorry, sir," said the waiter soothingly, "We have chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, black walnut, cherry, mocha almond..."

"I want tutti-frutti," cried Jones, banging the table and turning red. "I always have tutti-frutti and I won't have anything else."

For miles he muttered, scowled, growled and snarled at everyone, so that every train employee on board had visions of angry reprisals. Finally, the train stopped at a station; a word to the conductor kept it there while the crew scoured the town for tutti-frutti ice cream.

A whole pint of the dessert was found and all of it was presented to Jones, with huge gobs of cherry sauce on it, together with a sliced banana and a swirl of whipped cream.

"Here's your tutti-frutti ice cream, Mr. Jones," said the quaking waiter. Jones looked at it with a scowl, and then with a sudden swipe of his arm hurled it to the floor, shouting, "I'd rather have my grievance."

As embarrassing as it is, this can happen to any of us. Someone said, "There are times when I have been content to be discontent and have received great enjoyment from being unhappy. And pity the person who tried to appease me and deprive me of the 'pity party' I was in."

One way to combat whining is to follow Og Mandino's advice, "Do not listen to those who weep and complain, for their disease is contagious."

Recently, the words of Viktor Frankl from his book Man's Search for Meaning have been coming at me from all directions. And if anyone had a right to whine, it was he. As a survivor of the Holocaust, he said, "Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom."

In that same book Frankl says that in the United States there is a Statue of Liberty on the east coast. There should also be a Statue of Responsibility on the west coast. And, though he has taken criticism from some of his Jewish friends for seemingly diminishing the horrors of the Holocaust, Frankl's point is not to lessen the Holocaust's horrors but, rather, to help everyone realize how responsible each of us is in the way we respond to what happens to us.

Life will never be perfect. We know that. But we also all know that if we practice "No whining," at least we will not make it any worse.

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA
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Originally published in The Phoenix,