What gives someone the right to complain?


I've been thinking a lot about this lately. I thought I knew the answer, but my actions so far seem to be inconsistent with it. Acting to make it consistent doesn't seem right.

Take the stereotypical example of parents telling their children to finish their plate because children in various parts of the globe don't have access to enough food. In a way, the parents are telling the kids that they are privileged to have access to all this food, and that they should consume it without complaint. This rhetoric is rarely followed up with actual action to help those impoverished children. Rather, it's used as a scare tactic to get the child to finish their plate, so that the parent can put them to bed and sleep earlier. Like most things, when used often enough, the child becomes desensitized to the fact that there are hungry children out there, and just perceives the statement as their parents telling them to eat the remaining food in their plate.

This isn't the only case where such rhetoric is used. We've become desensitized to when this occurs. When discussing human rights for example, people often state that they're glad that they weren't born in INSERTCOUNTRYICANNOTNAMEFORREASONS, and move on. But why? Why don't we dwell on the fact that life for people in that country sucks? Why don't we think of the hungry children around the world? We don't we ponder and stress outselves, empathize with our fellow human beings around the globe?

Well, it's obvious why, I know. But it's infuriating that human brains work like this. Stories of another nation are just that, stories. They aren't the "real" things we see and experience in their everyday lives. Trivial things soon become more important than the lives of others. In one case I've witnessed, the topic switched from chaos in REGIONTHATICANNOTNAME to someone being unable to afford a better computer. There was genuine sadness in their complaint, more than there was in the previous discussion.

I don't mean to downplay people's right to complain. People have the right to complain however much they want. However, I would like to know how much complaining is justified for me, personally. Everybody has issues. Clearly, some issues have a higher magnitude than others. When discussing two issues, imagine having both of them, and identifying which issue is more important. That's how I determine which issue is more "complainable". Yet, when different people have these issues, with varying amounts of physical or mental distance, it becomes possible for the less important issue to overpower the most important one, and for that issue to focus of complaint.

I do this too. I live an absolutely wonderful privileged life, for my standards. I am acutely aware of the suffering present in this world, as I actively try to track it, spread awareness, and help out. Yet, it is beyond my economic and attentional means to dedicate my life to that task or to completely solve it. But the awareness of that suffering brings forth hesitation when it comes to complaints. Talking about one's ups and downs of life is a common part of social interaction and often brings people together, because it diffuses the negative emotions associated with the downs and shares the happiness associated with the ups. However, I find it extremely difficult to state any "down" to anyone.

It's not like I don't have downs. My life isn't perfect. Yet my downs seem so, so freaking stupid compared to the problems faced by others in the world. How dare I complain about stupid things when others suffer more. I know it's possible to both complain and still care about the problems of the world, but that's not what it feels like. Complaining feels like a blatant exercise of privilege. It feels like betrayal. If a person facing the real problems was in front of me, I wouldn't even mention the problems I face, so why do I have the right to talk about them when they are away?

Note that I don't want everyone to stop complaining. Complaining is in fact wonderfully cathartic. It's beneficial for mental health. I'd like to do it too, about my stupid downs. Yet, I can't. I'm in this state of guilt-based paralysis. It's a curious phenomenon.