Vaccinate against the Gripe!

First a backstory. A sign at my pharmacy that was written in Spanish first caught my eye. Diehard fans here will know I spent a year in Spain eons ago and that I still like to practice my Spanish. Many stores today have ample signage in English and Spanish, and since my husband loves browsing in home supply stores like Lowes and Home Depot, I look at signs and practice Spanish vocabulary and usage to my heart’s content.

Most of us do not mind, when given in a loving spirit, a valid gripe or careful criticism from which we can learn and benefit in our work or personal lives.

The sign at the pharmacy said “Vacúnese contra el gripe hoy.” (Literal translation something like “Vaccinate yourself against flu today,” or put more simply, “Get your flu shot today.” When I lived in Spain, the word for “flu” always amused me and my American friends. Gripe is pronounced “grée-pay,” with the accent on the first syllable. We often combined English and Spanish in our sentences but pronounced the Spanish way, as in, “I think I have the gripe.” It was just one of those fun things we enjoyed, playing with language and meanings in that setting.

I thought what good advice that sign offered, though, switching out the Spanish word for the English with the “complaint” meaning of gripe in mind: “Vaccinate yourself against the gripe today.”

Yes, “the Gripe.” We all have such persons in our lives—the person who loves to complain, who looks on the worst side of everything, who refuses to enjoy a sunny day because it will likely rain tomorrow.

How can you deal?

First, we all recognize the difference between someone having a complaint—which can be totally valid and helpful to express—and being a chronic complainer. Guy Winch, a psychologist, writer, and contributor to Psychology Today, starts off with the oft-used comparison of how optimists see a glass half full and pessimists see a glass half empty, then goes humorously a step further.

Winch writes, “Chronic complainers see a glass that is slightly chipped holding water that isn’t cold enough, probably because it’s tap water when I asked for bottled water and wait, there’s a smudge on the rim, too, which means the glass wasn’t cleaned properly and now I’ll probably end up with some kind of virus. Why do these things always happen to me?!” (“How to Deal with Chronic Complainers,”, July 15, 2011.)

I also think of Bible verses like Proverbs 21:9: “Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a nagging wife” (NIV). And others like that. Several proverbs talk about a quarrelsome wife being like the constant dripping of a leaky roof. And we all know that men who can be just as complaint-prone.

Most of us do not mind, when given in a loving spirit, a valid gripe or careful criticism from which we can learn and benefit in our work or personal lives. My work as an editor and writer gets plenty of that from both sides—I have to dish critique out as an editor, and I have to receive it as a writer. Being prone to gripe or complain can be a protective device—covering up one’s own weaknesses.

If you can’t change someone, how do you vaccinate yourself, or prepare for their whiny ways?

If it is a work colleague and the complaint is valid, is there a way to isolate the specific issue at hand rather than reciting a laundry list beginning with “I can’t stand the boss!”? Avoid agreeing with the complainer just to get them to quit harping on the issue—because that can lead them to include you in the complaint. (As in “So and so agrees with me!”) Negativity in the workplace, at school, or in the home can be as contagious as the flu.

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The author hamming with her husband in front of a downtown Charlotte, NC landmark.

If the complainer is your spouse and you truly love each other, try a heart-to-heart discussion, but only when you’re both in a good mood. Talk about what his or her gripes make you feel like. Try the old list technique: both of you list things you like about each other or about your marriage—and things you wish could change. And instead of working on a long agenda, each of you pick one thing to work at changing in your attitude in the next week or month.

I’m also open to ideas here! What approaches have worked for you in dealing with a complaining voice at work or in your home? Certainly preparing your head and heart for negativity in dealing with someone you want to get along with can be a form of vaccinating yourself against gripes!


For a free booklet dealing with work, write for “Work Therapy.” Send your request to or Another Way, 1251 Virginia Avenue, Harrisonburg, VA 22802.