Belfast Telegraph

We have turned into a nation of complainers and moaners

By Terence Blacker

The petition in support of arresting the youths said to have urged a suicidal man to jump off a car-park roof has now passed 8,000 signatures. The Jeremy Clarkson protests are accelerating like a turbocharged SUV. No doubt there is an anti-Clarkson protest that is also doing well.

Have we ever, in our entire history, complained as much as we do today? Never famous for looking on the bright side, the inhabitants of these islands seem to be in the grip of a new epidemic of whinge.

To every annoying, venal, bureaucratic thing that "they" do, we have the same weary, dreary response. We complain to one another, whipping ourselves up into a terrific huff of disapproval.

Complaining about things, psychologists claim, acts as a sort of social glue. The complainer is relieved to discover there are others - perhaps millions of them - who are as cheesed off by something or other as he, or she, is.

Unfortunately, there is another universal rule about the moan: the more people complain about something, the less likely they are actually to do anything about it.

Those who can, do; those who can't be bothered prefer to maunder on pointlessly from the sidelines.

The moaner used to be something of a joke figure, middle-aged, or old, querulous, or eccentric - a Victor Meldrew, or an Ena Sharples of Coronation Street.

Now, dismayingly, the epidemic seems to affect all ages.

Few nations on earth have less to complain about and yet we regularly top the charts for international dissatisfaction.

Perhaps we have always been a glass-half-empty bunch, but there seems to be a new level of alienation in the air.

The UK's political journey of the past 30 years, from Thatcher via Blair to Cameron, has taken us away from any sense of shared civic pride. When everything is being quietly privatised and even public servants talk and behave like entrepreneurs, there is not much sense of personal investment in national projects.

Pride in the health service has been whittled away.

The BBC has begun to seem not dissimilar to any other large corporation. These institutions are not just out of touch, as we are repeatedly told, but out of reach.

Admittedly, we enjoyed a brief moment in 2012 when our national self-esteem ratcheted up a few notches while London hosted a friendly and well-run Olympic Games. But, within days of the athletes leaving town, the mood quickly evaporated.

There is an odd and paradoxical connection between this tendency to complain and the prevailing tone on the internet towards cheerfulness.

Online, we are encouraged to press "like" and "favourite" buttons, to support one another on social media sites with trilling affirmations. Making others feel good, the message goes, will lead to great results in our own lives. Positivity is more than its own reward; it has a practical effect.

Whether clicking a mouse to register a protest, or to make a stranger feel better, the principle is the same: it is your state of mind, how you feel, that matters. Want to succeed? Think positive. Angry about something? Sign a petition.

Aware that it may seem a bit rich for me to complain about complaining, I have made a post-Lent resolution to pay 50p to charity every time a pointless, muttered complaint passes my lips over the coming month.

The jar is already filling. It could be a good month for Macmillan nurses.

The Readers' Editor is away

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