Never Complain, Never Explain

There have been times where, against my better judgment, I’ve felt the need to explain my reasons for doing something. For instance, not responding to phone calls. Most people have this strange expectation that you will always answer their calls the moment it rings, or reply to their emails as soon as they’ve sent them, as if you are waiting by the phone/computer all day to do just that, or as if you have nothing better to do.

I am not against returning calls, but I refuse to let myself be interrupted. And I don’t have to want to explain my reasons for doing things. When I’ve returned people’s calls—usually the next day—some would complain about calling me the day before, as if expecting me to justify my reason for not taking their call in that instance. It’s obvious that I know they called me, which is why I am returning their call in the first place.

It’s shocking how most people live in reactionary mode and use their phones (or email) to continuously allow themselves to be interrupted all day. It’s second nature to them, so much so that if you don’t use it the same way, they take offense. People expect you to answer phone (or email) all the time, and if you don’t, they try to give you a hard time—but then again, whose problem is that? Not yours, for sure.

Some of my friends in the past have had a problem with this. I tell them (or anyone) that I either return calls as per my convenience, or we can schedule a time to talk. To them, it’s unthinkable to schedule calls with friends because in their minds, you only schedule calls with co-workers and the like.

After explaining my reasoning to a few people in the past, I’ve stopped doing that. Now, I simply ignore it and move on. I don’t feel compelled to explain my reasons for doing things most of the time. This is not an ironclad rule by any means, but I have drastically cut it down.

Why do we feel the need to convince others? How often do we go out of our way to do so? If you have to explain things to others, then maybe they are not “your people” to begin with. How often are we inclined to post a comment to defend our views with strangers? Why do we feel the need to win their approval? If we know something to be true for ourselves, why do we feel a need to explain it to others?

The truth of the matter is there are some who simply get what you do, and then there are others who don’t, no matter how convincing you may be. To spend any time persuading the latter people, or explaining things to them, would be a waste of that time. They either get it or they don’t. It’s not about being right or wrong, but about what you believe, and finding others who believe what you believe.

I am reminded of a quote by Dr. Seuss:

Be who you are and say what you feel, those who matter don’t mind and those who mind don’t matter.

Speaking of “your people”, there is a reason we don’t get along with everyone we meet. We are not friends with everyone. The reason your best friend loves you is the same reason your partner loves you, and it’s the same reason your client or customer loves you.

You shouldn’t have to explain to your friends about the things you do. You shouldn’t have to justify them. If they are your friends, they should get it instantly. They might not entirely agree with your viewpoint, but they will get it nonetheless. You don’t have to explain things to them because they know you well.

As Elbert Hubbard, an American writer, said:

Never explain — your friends do not need it, and your enemies will not believe you anyway.

If you have a business, you might be tempted to work with every prospect that comes your way, but is that the best thing for you or them? As a result, you might find yourself “explaining” things to your clients/customers. Perhaps it would be helpful to consider whether you should be working with them at all.

I believe working with “your people” should be fun, easy, and rewarding. In order to make that happen, you have to find people who believe what you believe. You have to work only with your ideal clients. Then you don’t have to worry about explaining things to them, because they get you and what you are about, which is why they want to work with you in the first place.

There have been many situations with people in my life where I felt compelled to explain things to them to clear their misconceptions, and as a result, I felt drained in the process. I have had to explain my reasons for doing something because it vastly differed from their thinking.

Thinking back to some of the relationships in my life, it was quite evident when I had to explain things to others because I wanted to make things work, even at the cost of the obvious value differences that I chose to ignore. I didn’t realize at the time, but I was forcing it to happen. It was anything but organic.

I remember in the past when my controlling significant other would often complain about my actions/choices and demand explanations (when I should have been the one demanding hers). When I didn’t offer one, I was made to think I was “weak”. Of course, she was baiting me into responding, and because I was leading the relationship, I felt compelled to explain things even at the cost of being drained, because I was trying to make our relationship work despite the ongoing struggle.

Here’s the thing: If someone is hell-bent on misinterpreting what you say (and especially if/when their salary depends on it), there is nothing you can say or do that will make them change their mind. In fact, you would be digging your own grave by responding to them, so they continue to chip away at your heels.

At some point, I realized I am not going to explain things to others, as a rule of thumb. If others misunderstood me, then that was up to them. I was no longer going to make it my problem (because as far as I was concerned, it wasn’t). I knew if I had to explain something to someone, then maybe I was trying too hard to begin with, and maybe those were not “my people” anyway.

That said, the idea of “never” is not set in stone. Moreover, it won’t apply to every single situation. That’s missing the point—although understanding it how it applies in our everyday situations can help us lead more proactive lives. For instance, sometimes you do explain things to a loved one, because your relationship with them matters more than the issue at hand.

The worst thing we can do is to explain things to people who insult or criticize you. You are never going to win that battle. The last thing you want to do when someone insults you is to explain with logic and reason. When others drive their conversation emotionally, no amount of reason can overcome that emotion. It’s pointless. You will only end up losing power and be perceived as weak. I have been guilty of this in countless situations and I cringe thinking about it.

There is no point in making others understand, when they have already made their mind. Not only are you wasting your energy, you are also giving away your power to them and unwittingly exposing your own weakness.

Benjamin Disraeli, a British politician and Prime Minister, has been attributed for coining this maxim after hearing the advice of fellow politician Lord Lyndhurst:

Never defend yourself before a popular assembly except with and by retorting an attack.

The idea isn’t to say nothing at all, but to limit your response with a caustic one and simply move on. Others might ask you to offer explanations, but we must know better than to fall for that trap.

As I wrote in the previous draft, one of the things we can do is practice “insult pacifism”. We can ignore insults from others. When they repeat an insult, you can simply say that you heard them the first time, and you continue to ignore them. Nothing drives someone over the edge like having their remarks go unanswered or unacknowledged. The best thing you can do is to disengage.

I never complain, because I believe you shouldn’t have to explain things to others (and vice-versa). To give you an example, there have been times when I’ve received emails from people criticizing my work (constructively, of course) and from others who had high praise for it, sometimes on the same day.

In one such instance, a reader I know wrote to me with all the best intentions for improving my writing, analyzing my piece in detail about the things I could do to improve—most of it wasn’t convincing to me, even if I do say so myself—while another reader had high praise for my writing. (Keep in mind, I work with a copyeditor who reviews every word I write.)

While I thanked both readers for their feedback, I went with my instinct and didn’t make any changes to my piece. To the reader who criticized my writing, I didn’t feel the need to explain my reasons to them, because I remained unconvinced. I also thought maybe that piece simply wasn’t for them if they found that many errors. This partially goes back to seeking feedback from those you trust.

We complain about things when we want others to do things differently. Sometimes, I will go on a rant with a friend about how things ought to be in my gated community, but no amount of complaining (especially to those who have no control over the issue) will change things. Why am I wasting my precious energy doing that?

The same could be true for others in the community who are on the frontlines. There is little they can do to change things because they are simply following orders from the management and are reluctant to do things otherwise, even at the risk of not doing the right thing—a decision based in fear. This isn’t entirely their fault. Besides, it’s futile to argue mindlessly with those who have no ability to help you. Maybe it’s above their pay grade.

We can’t fix people; we need to fix the environment created by poor leadership.

When you receive poor service at a restaurant, you may or may not give feedback for it, depending on whether you think it will make any difference in the future. You can make your problem known to others with as few words, but then quickly focus on what you want them to do about it.

As another example, it’s surprising how often one finds someone at the airport arguing with an airline staff at a counter complaining about their delayed flight, as if the ground staff is responsible for it. What’s the point of that? There is nothing they can do about it, so why bother?

Focus on the solution rather than dwelling on the problem, which helps no one. When you think there is nothing that can be done, simply move on.

Stop explaining things. Stop justifying yourself to others. Don’t be afraid to be yourself. This is not about being arrogant or cocky, but about being different. No two people are the same. We don’t have to agree with others all the time. Not only is that okay, it’s to be expected.

We can respect others and still be assertive. Stop complaining about things, mostly because you end up using your energy and you end up getting nowhere. It would serve us better to focus on things we can do something about.

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