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moan therapy


I’m feeling depressed! I think I’ll cheer myself up by having a good old moan. This is a very British thing to do, moaning. So central to our culture is it that anyone seeking to become a British subject ought to be examined in it.

We need to ensure that the intending citizen can moan about a range of issues, and not just the weather; that they enjoy moaning; that after a good old moan they relax into a mood of contentment. The examiner would also seek to establish that the examinee can make a clear distinction between moaning and complaining.

I take this thing extremely seriously. There is a very real danger that the moan will be swallowed up by the complaint, and a very British way of expressing oneself disappear for ever. Media messages are worrying: the British are getting much better at complaining. As a result there is bound to be a downturn in moaning. I blame Which? magazine and TV consumer programmes.

. Before we go any further we need to check that you and I agree on the distinction between these two behaviours. The moaner is passive, the complainer is active. The moaner does not expect anything to change as a result of her (or his, let me quickly add) moaning. The complainer seeks redress of some real or imagined wrong. That is why the plaintiff in certain civil actions is called the complainant.

You may object that someone complaining of a headache is not seeking redress, and I will reply that what they are up to is either, a) using it as an excuse to get out of doing something they don’t feel like doing, and are therefore being active, or b) are in reality moaning, and the word ‘complain’ is being used loosely, just another example of sloppy English. It’s the teachers I blame! And the parents!

‘Ah!’ You may respond, ‘If “a” is the case then there is an intention to be passive.’ ‘Not on your Nelly’, I reply. ‘They may seek to give this impression, but once you have left for the pub/cinema/bingo hall they will be up to all sorts of nefarious activity.’ Never trust anyone who ‘complains’ of headaches is my advice.

As well as being proficient moaners, citizenship-seekers must also be seekers after truth. Perhaps that is a bit strong. At least they should not be tellers of lies, not the sort of people who fabricate headaches. In the past this has not always been the case. Consider the number of politicians, mainly of the blue persuasion, who are the sons of refugees. If we had insisted that their parents be committed to truth-telling before letting them past Immigration would these sons be so economical with the truth? If yes, then it is obvious that the parents are to blame. As we have not insisted on this commitment it is obvious that the parents are equally to blame.

That I have spent many of my years as a teacher colours not one whit my conviction that parents are to blame. High Anglicans and low evangelicals may assert that original sin is sexually transmitted. The more liberal of us are on the nurture side of the debate. But whichever side you take, it must be blindingly obvious that the parents are to blame, and it requires more than the baptism of infants to put this right.

Another distinction between ‘moan’ and ‘complaint’ is that the former is often accompanied by a sound: ‘a prolonged low inarticulate murmur indicative of mental or physical suffering’ (OED). Says it all, doesn’t it? And Shakespeare appreciated its therapeutic value: ‘Let there bechance him pitifull mischances, To make him mone.’

To be beneficial the true British moan must be pre- or succeeded by such a murmur. Moaning requires a low voice as it is a kind of lamentation. Care needs to be taken to ensure that moaning never descends into whining.

Complaining, on the other hand, is done in a shrill, loud, voice, usually accompanied by some physical action such as finger-jabbing or counter-banging. Blood pressure rises and this can be a threat to health. For your health’s sake you must turn from complaining back to moaning.

Now is a chance to try it for yourself. I shall ask the Editor to leave a space here for you to jot down a moan or two. Not that he ever listens to me! I bet he tells me he has to be economical with the space.

Once you have committed your thoughts to paper then you must articulate them with the full force of a lamentation.

Feel better? Well I’m sure we are all glad we’ve got these things off our chests!

P.S. Contributors to this journal receive no financial remuneration. However, if I have given you cause to moan about Resurgence or its editor then that is reward enough.

January 2005

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