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A complaint-free world - Martha Randolph Carr

I have this thin, hot-pink-colored, rubber bracelet on my wrist that I've been wearing for two weeks now. It's part of the current fad of wearing your heart for all to see, and has replaced the ubiquitous ribbon on everyone's lapel.

This one is made by A Complaint Free World.org and was handed out by a minister in New York City to the entire 750 member congregation that showed up one Sunday, as a means to get us to quit our belly-aching. The rules are simple: any complaint that is uttered requires the wearer to switch the bracelet to the other wrist and start over until 21 days pass without a complaint. Pointing out to someone else that they're moaning is reason for a switch as well. Poisonous thoughts can be overlooked, but have to stay just thoughts.

A few people have already managed to break their bracelets from all the course corrections. They may have added in a frustrated tug as they pulled it off the right, to move it, once again over to the left side. That's not a complaint on my part, merely an observation, which is allowable.

However, for a little while there, it was looking like this bracelet would look good in the spring when I'd probably still be wearing it. Again, just an observation.

My downfall has been two things. I tend to make a small, little complaint when there's something I want to do, but am unsure how to do it, or that even with instructions I'll be able to figure it out. In other words, I'm afraid of looking foolish. Like when performing my duties as an usher at church, which is the simplest job offered and part of the reason I chose that volunteer assignment.

All that is required is to convince late-comers to follow my directions to empty seats, rather than stand in the middle of the aisle scanning the rows by themselves. Instead, what usually ensues is a small, repeated pantomime as we are both stuck in the aisle while I give small waves toward the front holding up two or three fingers trying to point out the vacancies. The people in the back wave their hands in a universal gesture of "no" and continue to stand there.

No one is missing the show we're putting on, more observations on my point, and you can see how easy it is to get near that line of lamenting. On top of that, I have even been known to get lost in the music and forget I'm ushering until people breeze by me, finally, on the way to those vacant seats I've been pointing out. And yet, I'm welcomed back each week to usher once again. This leads to a self-imposed pressure to try and do a better job, so much so, that my heart actually beats faster as the service starts, knowing I'm about to repeat the same ritual.

I have wanted to handle my low-level anxiety by complaining, because after all they're small points. I've even caught myself in the middle of a complaint twice now that was intended to lower everyone's expectations with the intention of garnering a few bits of praise that maybe I'm not as bad as I thought. So far, I've gotten, "that's OK" and "as long as you're doing the best you can."

Thank goodness for the bracelets on everyone else, or you can imagine what they'd really say. This simple bracelet is helping me to see my need to control, or compete, in the smallest of corners, and it needs to go. The need to be right can easily become an unwillingness to ask for help or change, when a current plan isn't working. Considering the current economy, that's a strategy that could result in some harsh consequences. Wearing this bracelet has inadvertently helped me to be grateful that's it's possible to relent and let go.

The other opportunity has been to not argue back at all with those closest to me. That's counted as complaining and there's no loophole for less of it. It's all or nothing. That one I'm still working on. I'll let you know.

Martha's column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc., newspaper syndicate. E-mail her at: Martha@caglecartoons.com.