A Complaint Free Hijri Year 1443
In the Name of God, the Most Kind, the Kindest
بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
The upcoming new moon will mark the beginning of the Islamic year 1443 and the start of the blessed month of Muharram. Imagine what it would be like if we could experience a complaint-free year! Will Bowen, a sought-after motivational speaker, has a novel 21-day experiment to do just that. In his book A Complaint Free World, he offers a challenge and a purple bracelet to facilitate this lofty aspiration. The idea intrigued me and made me think of the Prophet (upon him peace) who rarely, if ever, complained. When one reflects on the hundreds of thousands of sayings (ahadith) of Allah’s Messenger, it becomes apparent that complaining, gossiping, and venting grievances was not in his character.
It’s worth noting that Bowen does not consider speaking directly and openly to the person who can resolve a problem or issue complaining. For instance, if a restaurant gives you the wrong order. It is not complaining to inform the waiter and ensure that the mistake is corrected. Or, if your computer freezes and you call tech support, you are not complaining. The Prophet (upon him peace) always spoke directly to people or with Allah. The beautiful supplication that he made after being stoned by the children of Ta’if comes to mind. His extraordinary forbearance, grace, mercy, and love for creation also become apparent. Hazrat Inayat Khan has a practice that says, “My thoughtful self, bear all and do nothing.” I never knew exactly how to interpret that until contemplating this book in conjunction with the hadith sharif and prophetic biography (Sirah).
Reading between the lines, I hear Hazrat Inayat Khan’s words as bear all (without complaint) and do nothing (i.e., do not gossip, criticize, grieve, or retaliate). So how does this phenomenally successful idea work? Well, you put on a purple bracelet or rubber band. Whenever you catch yourself expressing a complaint, engaging in gossip, or airing a grievance with someone who cannot do anything about it, switch the bracelet or rubber band to the other wrist and start counting from Day 1 again. Bowen says that it takes on average four to eight months to complete 21 consecutive days of complaint-free living. He also assures participants that it is worth the effort and has resulted in a life-changing experience for millions of people from across the globe who have tried it. Benefits include improved relationships, happier workplaces, and proactive religious institutes. Participants also reported better personal health and overall life satisfaction.
The Gottman Institute has demonstrated how “The Four Horsemen: Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling“ destroy relationships, be it romantic, familial, friendships, or work-related. They make a distinction between a valid complaint and criticism. A helpful complaint states your needs without attacking or blaming the other person. It describes your perception, not “the absolute truth.” It focuses on specific behavior, not global judgments. Lastly, it is an emotional bid for connection (The Relationship Cure: A 5 Step Guide to Strengthening Your Marriage, Family, and Friendships). Gottman and Bowen’s work highlights a common human weakness: a crabby habit of mind.
“Everybody feels irritable on occasion, but when you have a crabby habit of mind, you feel this way just about all the time. You constantly scan the world for evidence to justify your feelings. And in this imperfect world, that evidence is not hard to find. (‘Damn it! You left the milk out on the counter—again!’ ‘Look at that yard! Are those people ever going to mow their lawn?’ ‘Politicians! Their double-talk gets on my nerves!’) When you have a crabby habit of mind, you often try to correct imperfect situations, and you get overly concerned about other people’s faults. Consequently, you may do more than your fair share of turning against others’ bids for connection” (The Relationship Cure, 78).
After listening to A Complaint Free World, I realized that everyone is susceptible to a crabby habit of mind or complaining, far more than we would like to admit. I have already had to go back to Day 1 thrice in only a few hours. It is a challenging exercise in holding one’s tongue to transform one’s thoughts. This year, we can spiritually commemorate the migration of the Prophet (upon him peace) by becoming aware of our thoughts, holding our tongues, and following his complaint-free Sunna! We can mentally move in a different direction that is better aligned with our highest ideals and aspirations.
May 1443 be a complaint-free year for us, may it be a year of positive transformation and perpetual bliss!
With love ,
PS. This new year pick up a copy of Bowen’s A Complaint Free World, Gottman’s The Relationship Cure, and The Path of Muhammad: A Book on Islamic Morals & Ethics by Imam Birgivi for good measure! And kindly let me know if you decided to take up the 21-Day Complaint Free Challenge.
Rémah shares her reflections on the Productive Wisdom newsletter “Who am I?” (30 July 2021):
“I really appreciated what you wrote. I feel like when you are a convert you have to push so hard in the beginning to be accepted and acknowledged that at some point you lose yourself a little along the way as you make your new self. Then a few years later as another season of life unfolds, she pops back out and you find her again.”