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This morning the weather in the suburbs of Tel Aviv was bright and sunny, and a cease-fire was finally in effect. On my way back home from the gym, I stopped at the grocery store to get some milk. The store was empty apart from a cashier, another employee who was arranging inventory on the shelves, and their boss. I went to the aisles to fill up my basket, and by the time I got back to the register, the boss had left. The three of us were the only ones in the store, and with no customers around, and no boss watching over the employees’ shoulders, the situation lent itself to small-talk. I started by complaining about the Tel Aviv heat:
“I can’t believe how hot it is outside. I can’t stand Tel Aviv in August”.
The cashier immediately identified with my complaint and shook her head while beeping the products through the scanner:
“I’m telling you. It gets hot even in here on days like this. Even though the A/C is constantly on it’s never comfortable.”
The other employee paused for a second, contemplating whether or not to join the grumbling, and then said:
“At least you sit down all day, I need to walk in and out all the time, and go up and down on the ladder. I can’t stop sweating.”
The cashier put on a small smile in response, and finished to put the products in the bags. I handed her my credit card, and while sliding it through the register she said:
“Time doesn’t move. As if the clock is stuck. This is going to be a long day”.
“It will end sometime…” I said.
Then the other employee smiled and said “yes… but when??”
Supposedly this was just idle, superficial conversation. Yet under the surface it had a different level of depth. The two employees happen to be Israeli Arabs, and I’m an Israeli Jew. This may not matter much normally, but in the midst of a military conflict in Gaza while rockets are falling on Israeli cities, some of the hidden tension in Israeli society has been unleashed, and there is more friction between the country’s Arabs and Jews. It was nice to feel that friction dissolve.
When I met with Phil Zimbardo, during Ride of Your Life, he described a psychological process that is characteristic of conflicts and is called dehumanization, along with an opposite process called humanization:
“Dehumanization is the central process of all prejudice and discrimination. You take an individual and you treat him or her as part of a category (based on religion, race, origin, etc.) and then all of the stereotypes of the category are dumped on that individual. It’s a filter that prevents me from knowing the real you, it prevents me from humanizing you…
To humanize somebody is to give them an identity. It’s to see what about you is like me.”
Complaints may be one of the pillars of the humanization process. Complaining about the weather, the boss, or about being bored at work, is a fundamental thing that all of us share. A common bond of dissatisfaction from the little aches and sores that everyone experiences, and the relief that comes from knowing that these aches are not unique to us.
Many of us tend to think that noble and transcendent values like peace and love are what brings humanity together. That may be right, but I’d like to argue that it’s all about complaining. Let’s complain more.
(Is there anything you’d like to complain about right now? Why not start a little grumble by commenting below? I, for one, had only 5 hours of sleep last night, and I can’t believe how tired I am ;))