Collecting Complaints

Posted by:

K. Ken Fujimoto

Reading an article recently in the Hongwanji Shinpo, the Hongwanji newspaper that comes out three times each month, I found out about an interesting project started by some graduate students at Ryukoku University assisted by other Hongwanji affiliated schools.  What they are doing is that a group of them position themselves outside the main Kyoto train station and offer to listen to peoples’ complaints.  They call it a complaint collection project and they are ready to listen to complaints from anyone and everyone who will talk to them.

The Kyoto Station may not be as busy as some of the stations in bigger cities such as Tokyo and Osaka, but it is still a bustling area and tens of thousands of, if not more, people will pass by each day.  The students sit there with signs about their project and all types of people approach them.  At first, they are usually just curious as to what the students are doing.  The people that do stop by include all types, commuters, tourists and such.  Some of them will readily share some simple complaints, i.e. their superiors pick them as scapegoats; their friends have started acting snobbishly since their child was accepted at a prestigious university.  Occasionally, they will get very serious complaints such as they cannot find a job or that their wife is hospitalized with a serious illness.

These students, apparently, do not offer advice, only an ear to listen to the complaints.  They came upon this idea because of the alienation they saw in modern society and the lack of places to safely express and release frustration and complaints.  By giving people an outlet, they are able to help without being invasive.  This is extremely reflective of the Jodo Shinshu teaching in that there is no judgment only the act of simply listening.

They collect these complaints and list them on one of the Hongwanji websites, tarikihongwan.net.  Most of them, as mentioned above, are very simple and range from complaints about the weather to those about partners/spouses or co-workers.  However, the majority of them seem to be related to interpersonal relationships whether it is in the household, husband/wife, parent/child, siblings, or in the workplace, superiors, co-workers or people working under the person, or friends.  It also serves as a means for the students taking part in the program to learn about themselves and about relationships in general.

This reminded me of an episode where I went to visit an elderly woman who had just undergone a leg amputation due to complications from diabetes.  I went in wondering what I could say to her to cheer her up, but the first thing she said to me was, “At least, I can still complain.”  She was able to see her situation and put it into perspective.  She was able to see that she was alive and still able to complain, a luxury that would not have been possible without the amputation.  This also shows both our human nature and the value of having an outlet for our frustrations and complaints.  How grateful are you when you can complain to someone you trust and know they will not make those feelings public?

We will probably always find something to complain about, but having an outlet that is non-judgmental and safe can be healthy and productive.  If we can find the right group of people to do this, non-threatening and non-judgmental, it may be a project that we may want to consider implementing here.

© August 24, 2013