When I taught public school a couple of decades back I had a wonderful third grader named Karina in my class. She was larger than the rest of the kids, and very whimsical. Her non-English speaking mother had moved to an area where there were almost no Spanish speaking people, I guess she couldn’t read the signs pointing to Spanish Harlem. She wound up in regular Harlem and so Karina was one of only a few Hispanic kids in the school.
Aside: I remember once a white mother brought her young, Bart Simpson-looking kid into the office to enroll him. My droll, brutal “assistant” Miss June was walking by the office at that moment and didn’t miss a beat. Pointing as we passed each other she said “Look, Whitey, we integrated now.” I got a big kick out of this. June was quick.
Karina came up to me repeatedly and asked, in a singsong, whiny voice “Mr. Widaen, can I drink water?”
And in the humanistic teaching style I am so rightfully reviled for aspiring to I said “I’d be happy to let you go have a drink, if you can ask me without whining.” As she clearly had no idea what “whining” was, I explained it to her.
“Mr. Widaen,” she said at once, without a hint of complaint, self-pity or cringing entreaty, “can I go drink water?” I smiled and told her she certainly could. This lesson took immediately and our pleasant exchange was repeated whenever she asked me something and I always happily obliged.
One day toward the end of the year she came up to me at the end of class and began whining my name. I said “Karina, what are you doing?”
“I’m whining, but….” and then explained that Sean had thrown a chair at her and was threatening to beat her up.
“Good explanation,” I said, going over to intervene with volatile, doomed Sean.
Here we pause to consider Mel Brooks’ enlightening definition of comedy and tragedy. Tragedy: I break my fingernail. Comedy: you fall into a manhole and die.
The difference between whining and a valid, respectable complaint? Whether it’s my fingernail or your manhole, on one level, though we’d hope for something more universal.
If a customer complains that the store, quite legally, will not tell him the price of the product he is buying until after the sale is finalized, you might tell him to go to another store. If he tells you that under a new law every store has a right to do this for the particular product he is shopping for, you might dismiss him as nuts. If you find out he is not nuts, is his complaint a whine or a valid, respectable complaint?
Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act the private insurance company you buy health coverage from cannot tell you in advance what a given procedure or office visit will cost you out of pocket. You have to wait, they say, until the provider sends his bill to the insurance company and the amount they have contracted for will be sent back to the provider and you will then be informed how much the 100% covered service will cost you out of pocket.
“Surely you are making this up. This is your typical whiny bullshit, sir,” a defender of President Obama’s bold and groundbreaking, if admittedly flawed, health insurance plan will say.
I wish I was, son. But that’s just the “whine” that comes to mind as I have just returned from a two hour visit, for an undisclosed price (on top of my monthly premium) to be referred to another doctor (a specialist– for another impossible to predict out of pocket fee) to be actually examined.
Here’s a hypothetical ass-twister: you complain that people are distracted, apt to assume and to argue about the perceived flaw in your thinking rather than take in the point you are making.
“Humph,” you might snort, “nobody has a right to complain about that. Nobody fucking listens to me, nobody responds to my needs, why should I listen to someone else complain that nobody listens or responds to what he is actually saying? I have troubles enough and long ago gave up thinking that anyone gave a real shit about anything I have to say. I’m the first one to dismiss the things I have to say. It’s called being a goddamned adult and living in the real, flawed, world.”
Fair enough, I suppose, if you have managed to truly lower all expectations to zero.
“Let’s backtrack a minute. You were whining about Obamacare above, how you are expected to pay out of pocket for ‘100% covered’ services. This has to be bullshit.”
Once would so hope, in vain. Preventive care (subject to unimaginable exclusions) is 100% covered under the PPACA. So my colonoscopy, billed at thousands of dollars, was paid by insurance, to the tune of about $800. Patient responsibility: zero.
“So you were fully covered, whiner.”
Yes, I was, except for the new PPACA mandated pre-colonoscopy doctor’s office visit to the specialist, with the $50 co-pay and the repeated bills and collection letters for the additional $81 dollars insurance had agreed I would pay for the remaining balance due on the short pre-preventive care visit.
“So you were billed $131 for a procedure that costs thousands, oh boo fucking hoo.”
“Well, for some reason I was also required to pay $100 towards the colonoscopy by check, before the procedure could be done.”
“$231 — oh, boo fucking hoo!”
There were additional expenses related to the 100% covered colonoscopy that insurance wouldn’t pay: $189 for the lab report on the polyps. If there had been no polyps, no need for a lab test, the preventive procedure, outside of the $231, would have been 100% covered, as it arguably was.
But, clearly, this doesn’t effect you, is just me stumbling into a tiny pothole that is not even a manhole and grousing into the sky about it. It may well be frustrating, Obamacare is quite possibly the insurance industry-authored scam some claim it is, but the larger question is: why should I expect anyone not directly effected by it to give a shit in this world of limitless sources of aggravation?
If a friend repeatedly fails to keep promises, why must I be so judgmental as to demand an apology or cast that friend into the sea of people not worth being friends with? Why the moral condemnation? Why the necessity to characterize human failings with loaded terms like “liar” and “unreliable” even if repeated promises turned out to be untrue and the things you were urged to rely on turned out not to be things you could rely on?
If a stranger has no response but a too-late warning or after-the-fact criticism you cannot put into effect, why ask me to confirm that you have the right to be irked? If the uselessness of such feedback is acknowledged, what more can be expected?
All complaining is whining, in one way. Unless one takes into account the cause, which is sometimes quite understandable. It seems little enough to acknowledge another person’s right to feel hurt by something objectively annoying. Such acknowledgement is worth a lot, and something most people, given the choice, would do for each other gladly.
But since nobody does that for me, one can reason, how dare someone demand that of me and what gives them the right to get all snippy if I am not Johnny on the Spot with the fucking sympathy?
Know what I’m sayin’?