Curmudgeon, bellyacher, and old biddy are but a few of the unflattering terms used to describe people fond of calling out pretense, bad behavior, hypocrisy, or the unnoticed downsides of conventional thinking.
Some of these cross patches live to annoy. Picture the sourpuss who snarls and bites because he’s motivated by malice, the malcontent who sees arguing as a competitive sport, or the family spitfire who delights in disrupting holiday dinners with her dissenting opinions. Big pains you know where.
But not all cranks and crabs are mean-spirited, looking to troll, anger, or insult. Some contrarians see something different; others see the greater good; and their messages should prompt us to reflect, not criticize. Their point, if we listen to it, can encourage us to look further than our own self-interest. There’s lessons to be learned.
Curmudgeons’ versions of the truth unsettle us, and we hold it against them. ~Jon Winokur, The Portable Curmudgeon
About that greater good thing that some mavericks see. In a crazy, busy world in which people take pride in their uniqueness of character and experience, talking about the greater good can feel uncomfortable. Something woo-woo, socialistic, or based in bottom-line oriented cost/benefit analyses.
What is the greater good?
The greater good is defined several ways. A few examples:
- Aristotle says it’s a shared happiness in which everyone has wisdom, virtue, and pleasure.
- Frances Hesselbein, former CEO of the Girl Scouts, says it’s having healthy children, strong families, good schools, decent housing, and work that dignifies.
- Others describe it as improving lives, so people suffer less and feel valued.
Some individuals conflate the idea of a greater good with controlling people’s destiny and dictating their thoughts. That’s not the case. With a measure of self-awareness, openness, and compassion, it’s possible to promote collective well-being without having a collective identity.
There’s lots of truth in, and lessons to be learned, from the old line that variety is the spice of life.
The pressures of conformity, the focus on winning in the quantifiable sense, and the quest for materialism are capable, individually and collectively, of making us forget (ignore? reject?) the joys of difference. The grinches and whiners who tilt against the grain can help us remember.
Civilizations should be judged not by how they treat people closest to power, but rather how they treat those furthest from power—whether in race, religion, gender, wealth, or class—as well as in time. ~Larry Brilliant, philosopher, hippie, and author
In business environments that values profits over principles and people, it can be easy to adopt that same narrow bottom line perspective and forget about caring for or respecting all people. Even if they see the world differently than we do.
Lessons to be learned
However, if we give ourselves permission to be open to considering their message, the grumps and grouches who point out inconvenient truths can help us see the bigger picture.
If we let them, antagonists and killjoys can serve as a reminder for us to be less selfish and insensitive.
If we let them, the malcontent’s message can serve as a hint that it’s time for us to step back and reassess.
Advice from the Dalai Lama is helpful when reassessing. He counsels us to ask ourselves as well as others just who benefits by what we’re about to do. Is it an individual or a group of people? Just one group or everyone? Is the benefit for right now or for the future?
In the rush to grow the bottom line, to have more, and to be the biggest, perspective about the greater good often gets lost. If we let it, the resistance of whiners can help us tap into our curiosity and enable us to see from a different point of view.
The grumbler’s gripes can be like the canary in the coal mine that alerts us to our mind being closed and having lost the ability to see the other side without taking sides.
I place a high moral value one the way people behave. I find it repellent to behave with anything other than courtesy in the old sense of the word—politeness of the heart, a gentleness of the spirit. ~Fran Lebowitz, author
The next time a scold speaks out in a meeting, resist the urge to discredit or dismiss his words. Choose not to be annoyed by her lack of team spirit. Choose instead to listen. To reflect. To consider. To question. To step out of the profit-driven moment and think about the greater good. Look for the lessons to be found in being a better person and making a difference.
Being open-minded is a choice, and curmudgeons are there to remind us that we have it.
Image credit before quote added: Pixabay