There seems to be a cycle, depending on the people you’re with, maybe at a certain point during the week or mid-semester, or within the college career, where the overwhelming craziness, high stress, and tension all funnel into one type of conversation: complaining.

What is it about complaining that is so satisfying, so easy, and so unifying? It’s a luxury to be able to share your feelings with friends at that 12 o’clock meal or in procrastination at the library before writing that paper. Plus, because Bates is such a small community, by mentioning a professor’s name or briefly describing a class, someone is bound to know whom or what you are talking about. And let’s not forget about the “domino effect”: once someone starts the complain-train, why not just hop on and join the ride?

I understand that being able to both contribute to the conversation and have others listen, agree and sympathize is an extremely wonderful feeling. But does the substance of this type of conversation outweigh the outcome? Do people feel better or relieved after complaining to their friends? Does this unifying negativity solve any of these pending issues?

I ask these questions because I am guilty of reverting to this type of conversation on a daily basis, but also because I’ve noticed that leaving these talks does not necessarily make me feel better. Obviously every complaint should not be looked at through a “problem-solution” lens, but I wonder if this trend of negativity is on a downward spiral, or if we can work on adding a lighter and more positive, or even hopeful, solution to these daily anxieties. Sharing stresses and anxieties about the day, week or future can be satisfying when others relate, but can feel even better when those listening can reassure and encourage in response. Yet during many conversations, I feel that there is a lack of encouragement. Where’s the positive spin? How can we use our similar complaints to our advantage in order to do better?

It’s troubling to walk away from a breakfast table at the start of the day, or leave for a class after lunch with these pessimistic thoughts on the surface. I am not trying to say that complaining can ruin an entire day, but sometimes it’s important to think about the outcomes of these conversations and how satisfying they are. What can we get out of them besides merely expressing our feelings of regret, sadness, despair, disappointment, and frustration?

I find that in college, especially depending on the age, one of the most challenging issues is to balance out thinking about the present and future. How can I sign up for this class without considering the final exam or research paper? How might going to this club meeting affect the rest of my semester in terms of meeting new people or adding another activity to distract me from academics? This imbalance of worrying about the future seems to create an overall feeling of doubt, pessimism, and a lack of confidence in the present. And yes, the unknown can be very scary, but we can deal with these future anxieties by working on overcoming them little steps at a time.

This trend of negativity, of complaining, of dissatisfaction, can be easily overheard throughout the day, but is the mere satisfaction of sharing these feelings enough to keep pushing through all the stress, anxiety, and craziness of college? Instead of relishing in these negative moments and further perpetuating this pessimism, cherish the support from friends, and more importantly, take these conversations to acknowledge that you are not alone. Try to remember that college is a valuable and wonderful community of people experiencing it all with you.