The fine art of complaining

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SARAH MALIK pays tribute to the good ol’ evaluation form

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Complaining works as a kind of soothing balm to frazzled nerves. It absorbs our worries, our woes, our anxieties and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.

And what better way to complain than the feedback forms that organisations use to assess customer satisfaction.

These assessment sheets bombard the hapless consumer at every turn. From shopping centres to video stores, lecture halls and used car shows, we are finally being asked what we think. Questionnaires have suddenly become a necessity for corporations who have suddenly clued on to the fact that listening to and addressing customer concerns can actually improve profits.

I for one am a big fan of these assessment sheets and fill them out with a meticulous zeal and solemn gravity, weighing each response carefully like a guru issuing prophetic wisdoms.

These forms pander to the self-importance that exists in all of us. It is a natural law of the universe that as soon as any regular Joe is asked for their opinion, they become a self-proclaimed expert swaggering forth with all sorts of gems.

For example recently my local supermarket revamped its layout with flashy colours and rearranged aisles.

No doubt some ingenious marketing hack in accounting had bloodlessly deduced (after careful study of the psychological make-up of us ‘consumers’) that somehow swapping cat food in Aisle 3 and bread in Aisle 2 and drowning the store in a horrid blood red colour would somehow cough up more pennies for the corporate coffers.

This method of seducing us to buy more only succeeded however in tormenting this customer, forcing me to navigate frightening new terrain after having just figured out where the stationary and hosiery were after the last revamp.

Needless to say I was incensed, and vented my frustration on the assessment form with gusto that no doubt some poor sod in a customer service centre somewhere is still deciphering. It went something along the lines of ‘Bright colours are infantile and abrasive’, ‘Aisle 3 packaged goods inconvenient and clumsy’, ‘Fruit aisles too big and overwhelming causing customer to ponder on the boundless and amorphous nature of existence, provoking existential angst and general despair causing said customer to lash out at shiny tomatoes’.

I must say though, venting has a brilliantly cleansing feeling, like purgatory or confession.

And thus to the heart of my diatribe.

My personal homage to this brilliant shock absorber – the assessment form.

I say, thank you my friend, for being there to chart the discontent of our lives. From faulty plumbing, shopping centre revamps, annoying commercials, uninspiring fads, banal celebrities and the hazards and perils of public transport. You were there through it all.

Sure you came from humble beginnings. A grumble there, a note here. But gradually you rose. Steadily gaining speed on the backs of whingers and complainers everywhere. You spoke to that deep visceral need in everyone – to have our complaints acknowledged, appreciated, accepted.

You took the place of the sympathetic friend, the half-listening partner. You did not judge or condemn, you merely listened.

Yes, you bring out the little old granny in all of us. That dark, complaining, annoying side which sees disturbance and righteous indignation at every possible human error and irritation.

But thankfully you allowed us to purge these dark and abysmal thoughts. To give a forum from which our collective consciousness could rid itself of the hundred shocks and injustices of modern life. You made complaining fun, necessary, compulsory almost.

Rising from the ashes of irrelevance, a certain cachet began to be attached to you. Suddenly customer satisfaction became all the rage. Hotlines and focus groups popped up everywhere.

You gave complaining a competitive edge, made it an art to be striven for. A certain glamour infected the age-old tradition. Now not only was content important – a certain style was required. There was a race to be the most terribly injured, outraged and insulted. To be the most grieved, in the most flagrantly woe-is-me, helpless romantic-heroine style manner.

You created hierarchies in the complainants’ code of conduct. The bitter edge that was the raison d’etre of every true blue complainant started to disappear. Instead posers started coming in, imposters with the flair and style, but lacking in that essential venom count.

Instead of baleful treatises on the futility of life and the human condition in general, theirs was only semi-wistful nostalgic tracts artfully requesting or gently seeking a re-evaluation of things as they were – more politeness please, more civility in public life, let’s all be good citizens and live harmoniously together so all our problems miraculously disappear.

The power of the complaint began to be diluted. Political correctness began to infiltrate the complainer’s words watering down the pointed whinge to a pitiful whimper.

The true complainant never pleads, never compromises, never asks ohh so gently for things to change. We are not revolutionaries, in fact we are counter-revolutionaries. Our purpose is to remain in constant opposition. We truly know that life is a never-ending struggle against the ‘blows and arrows of outrageous fortune’. We shall continue to fight, to complain, to whinge. If we lived in a veritable utopia, we should find a flaw, a tragic error in the perfection of things.

We work against silence, our style is bombastic, lacking in subtlety and full of contradictions. Nothing or no one is sacred and immune from our scrutinising glare – full of evaluation and judgment.

We are the complainers.