What Grumps & Grouches Can Remind Us To Be

Curmudgeon, bellyacher, and old biddy are but a few of the unflattering terms people use to describe those who have the strength and spirit (lots of it, sometimes) to call out pretense, bad behavior, hypocrisy, or the pitfalls of conventional thinking.

Some 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; some see the greater good, and their message 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.

"Curmudgeons’ versions of the truth unsettle us, and we hold it against them."
~Jon Winokur, The Portable Curmudgeon

About that greater good thing. 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 cost/benefit analyses.

Several ways to define the greater good:

  • 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 to the old line that variety is the spice of life. The pressures of conformity, winning in the quantifiable sense, and materialism can make us forget 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 a business environment that values profits over principles and people, it can be easy to adopt that same narrow bottom-line perspective and forget about caring for all people.

However, if we let them, 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 to be less selfish and insensitive.

If we let them, their message can be a hint that it’s time to step back and reassess. Advice from the Dalai Lama is helpful when reassessing. He counsels asking ourselves and others 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, have more, and be the biggest, perspective about the greater good gets lost. If we let it, the resistance of whiners can help us tap into our curiosity and see from a different point of view. Their gripes can be like the canary in the coal mine that alerts us to closed minds 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 step out of the profit-driven moment and think about the greater good.

Being open-minded is a choice, and curmudgeons are there to remind us that we have it.

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