Are you relatively new to this bustling metropolis? Don't be shy about it, everyone was new to New York once upon a time, except, of course, those battle-hardened residents who've lived here their whole lives and Know It All. One of these lifers works among us at Gothamist—publisher Jake Dobkin grew up in Park Slope and still resides there. He is now fielding questions—ask him anything by sending an email here, but be advised that Dobkin is "not sure you guys will be able to handle my realness." We can keep you anonymous if you prefer; just let us know what neighborhood you live in.
This week's question comes from a NYC resident who's worried about how much she complains.
Dear Native New Yorker,
Living here, I find myself complaining constantly—about the weather, the G train, my friends, the price of cigarettes, my job, existential ennui, all the dog crap on the streets, those guys that dance on the subway, tourists who never move out of the way on the sidewalk, about all the strollers at bars in Park Slope and about all the hipsters crowding the bars in Ridgewood.
Most of all I complain about the real estate market and never having any money, and how I feel like I'm just doomed to a life of poverty and unfulfillment here, but everywhere else in the world just sucks more, so I can't leave.
How much complaining is too much complaining? Should I try to stop?
Ms. Crabapple in Brooklyn Heights
A native New Yorker responds:
Dear Ms. Crabapple,
Some readers are going to see this and where you live and say something like "no one who's lucky or rich enough to live in Brooklyn Heights has a right to complain about anything." I disagree! Complaint is a natural human right entitled to all New Yorkers, and serves many diverse and valuable purposes. Without complaint, this city would be reduced to smoking ashes in a week—maybe less. So I'd never tell someone to stop complaining... but I will suggest you modulate your complaints to fight the real enemy: the late capitalist society which oppresses you. Allow me to explain!
New Yorkers have been complaining since we arrived here. When Peter Minuit bought Manhattan Island for $60 guilders worth of dry goods, the first thing he said afterwards was "I thought it would be bigger." That's a fact! When the first immigrants arrived at Ellis Island, the most common reaction was "you call this a welcome? Where's the Golden Door?" When the Brooklyn Bridge opened, every single person crossing on the first day turned to their companions and said "is it always so crowded?"
This is tendency is best summarized in the following corny joke:
A Jewish grandmother is watching her grandchild playing on the beach in Coney Island, when a huge wave comes and takes him out to sea. She pleads, "Please God, save my only grandson. I beg of you, bring him back." And a big wave comes and washes the boy back onto the beach, good as new. She looks up to heaven and says: "He had a hat!"
A young Jake Dobkin would like to register a complaint about his suit. (Courtesy Private Jake Dobkin Collection)
Like all persistent human behaviors, complaint serves an evolutionary purpose. The exchange of grievances allows you to form a social bond with your neighbors, in the same way that picking lice off your neighbor's fur does with the chimps. It also facilitates the exchange of valuable survival information, like what subway line to avoid this weekend, and allows you to inform others of damaging behavior you do not wish to see them repeat, like all those people who get on the elevator and press "2" and Jesus man, can't you just walk one flight of stairs?
This is a lot better than the alternative, which is bottling up your rage and then stabbing people. By letting out a little complaint now and again, or even every two minutes, humans can survive in situations of very high complexity and stress, which would simply kill any other animal. How often do you see a chimp riding the subway? Never‚ they just couldn't take it.
Of course, some of you may want to do more than just survive here. You may want to achieve true urban wisdom. This requires transcending complaints about the routine bullshit, and devoting your time to complaining about more important stuff. What I mean is that if you waste all your breath complaining about subway disruptions and cost of ice coffee, you'll never have time to devote real energy to protesting the systemic economic and racial injustice that is the underlying cause of all the really terrible bullshit here.
So save your complaints about your ungrateful friends for your shrink, and about the garbage truck noise for 311. This will free up valuable time to discuss who really benefits from high real estate prices and police brutality and underfunding mass transit: the rich people in power, and the lackeys who work for them. You might even have time to join a protest and block up some traffic on the Upper East Side, or shut down one of their phantasmagoric tree lighting ceremonies!
This is also good spiritual advice. I'm mandated by all the Buddhist books I read to remind you to "meditate on whatever causes resentment," and to practice mindfulness when dealing with the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to. Marcus Aurelius advises:
Reflect often upon the rapidity with which all existing things, or things coming into existence, sweep past us and are carried away. The great river of Being flows on without a pause; its actions forever changing, its causes shifting endlessly, hardly a single thing standing still; while ever at hand looms infinity stretching behind and before, the abyss in which all things are lost to sight. In such conditions, surely a man were foolish to gasp and fume and fret, as though the time of his troubling could ever be of long continuance.
But I don't know. It might be this terrible cold that one of my germball kids gave me this week, or the insane and upsetting news we've been covering here at Gothamist for the last few days, but it seems to me that only a fool suffers insult gladly, and there is a lot of stuff in the world worth complaining about.
In conclusion, the true measure of your zen isn't never getting upset or complaining, but getting upset and complaining about the right things, and then doing something about them. Harness your rage!
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