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A (positive) word to the wise

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Rev. Will Bowen of Christ Church Unity in Kansas City, Mo., decided to do something about all the complaints. He started, as religious leaders often do, with a sermon suggesting that his congregation stop complaining, criticizing and gossiping for three solid weeks. He chose this period of 21 days because he said that scientists believe it takes that long to form a new habit. But then he came up with an interesting gimmick to help the folks who wanted to try the experiment. The pastor gave away purple plastic bracelets with the idea that every time someone slipped up, that person had to move the bracelet to the other wrist and start over again.

Rev. Bowen admitted it took him three months before he completed his 21 complaint-free days. It wasn't easy, even for somebody who says that it's his "job to see God, and good, in everything."

The idea caught on. After some newspaper and magazine stories appeared, people around the country wrote to the church requesting bracelets and the campaign for "A Complaint Free World" was born. What I particularly like about his idea is that the intent is not just to break a bad habit, but to encourage people to have happier, more loving and more positive lives. There's no doubt that our words and the feelings behind them affect others - for better or for worse.

"Everything comes down to the energy you put into it," said Rev. Bowen. "If I say calmly, 'I smashed my finger last week and it still hurts,' that's a statement of fact. But if I'm whining, 'Oooh, I hurt my finger! It hurts so bad!' then that's complaining. And 99 percent of it is not beneficial."

That last point is the most important. Is what we say beneficial in some way? Will it lead us to make a change for the better? No one should be a doormat for the bad actions and attitudes of others. And none of us has the right to be complaisant about the serious issues and genuine evils that exist in our world. After all, Jesus let the money-changers in the temple know in no uncertain terms that they had no business turning a house of prayer into a den of thieves. Rosa Parks didn't shrug and say, "Well, that's the way it is!" when a bus driver told her to give her seat to a white man that eventful day in Montgomery, Ala. Mother Teresa of Calcutta didn't turn her back on the desperately needy men, women and children around her thinking, "Too bad, but there will always be poor people."

Poet Maya Angelou put it this way: "If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude. Don't complain."

There's a world of difference in griping for the sake of griping and in seeing a problem and then choosing to do something constructive about it. And it wouldn't hurt, when you're making an effort to bite your tongue, to say the Serenity Prayer, either: "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."

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Dennis Heaney is president of The Christophers

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For a free copy of the Christopher News Note, "Say It With Love," write: The Christophers, 12 East 48th St., New York, N.Y. 10017; or e-mail: mail@christophers.org.

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