One of these men deals with souls, the other with psyche. But if you complain, it hurts both soul and psyche. Given this, there was instant understanding and empathy between Pope Francis, “doctor of souls,” and Salvo Noè, Italian psychologist and psychotherapist, who lives and works in Catania, Sicily.
Their first meeting dates back to June 14, 2017, at the Pope’s General Audience. Noè was there to deliver in person, into the hands of the Roman Pontiff, an interesting gift: a plastic sign, roughly the size of a paper sheet of paper, with the inscription “Complaining Forbidden,” that Noè created himself.
The graphic of the sign follows the “smoking forbidden” posted by law in all public places in Italy. Noè had this idea in 2012, during his work, observing how people tend to complain about everything. And this, in his opinion, harms the mind, as much as smoking harms the body.
Likewise, Francis has on numerous occasions warned against complaining or grumbling. So already in receiving that gift, Noè recalls, “he [the Pope] had a very positive reaction”. Therefore, after a few days, the sign ended up posted on the door of the small room of the Pope, at his residence Santa Marta. The news quickly went around the world.
Meanwhile, the “Complaining Forbidden” also became the title of a ‘handbook,’ written by Dr. Noè in less than one month. It found rather surprising success in bookstores, in Italy and not only, since it has been also translated into seven languages (and soon, likely, also in English).
Francis also naturally read it, appreciated its content and now has written the preface for a second edition, available Monday, March 26, in Italian bookstores. “I asked him, during another meeting, to have the honor of a preface with his signature. He at first said that he had a lot to do, but he would try, until one day I received a phone call from the Vatican: ‘the preface is ready,’” says Noè.
According to Pope Francis, this small booklet has the great merit of “offering abundant ideas on how to deal with difficulties and contingencies, avoiding falling into the traps of victimization and seeing in every adversity, the possibility of re-emerging more confident and stronger”. And this, he comments, “is a useful thing, in our time characterized by so much speed around us and so much fragility within us”.
And all this, we read again, also applies to faith: “by faith we believe that, above and beyond everything, we are and will always be loved children of the Father. Always loved, despite sin and inconsistency. This is the source of our joy, a deeper joy of the emotions that come and go … ”
That’s why the Pope exhorts us to stop weeping at us for the injustices and afflictions of life.
“Even Francis”, explained Noé to Zenit, during his last trip to Rome (with a private meeting with the Pope, again) “is convinced like me that to stop complaining is important. Lamenting does not solve anything, on the contrary, it creates further problems. Instead, let us focus on what we can do! Let us find meeting points on what are the fundamental values and let us start to trigger the skills that help us to change for the better!” he exhorts strongly.
Complaining, well explained with easily understandable language throughout the nearly 200 pages of his book, triggers a negative cycle that in the long run prevents us from finding solutions. Instead the problems must be accepted, yes, but then we must go forward to search for the solution. In this case, then, a little complaining can also be productive, beneficial.
The following question then arises spontaneously, given the interest of Pope Francis in this suggestion of “Complaining Forbidden”: Does the same rule also apply to the spiritual life, as well as for psychology?
“Complaining Forbidden,” replies Noè, “is a perfect synthesis for both spheres. All of us are human beings who make a spiritual experience and spiritual beings who make a human experience. There are questions we can answer only by going beyond what we only know, and this helps us to live better. “In essence,” he continues, “there are two fundamental things in our life: faith and trust. Without trust it is impossible to live, without trust we cannot motivate ourselves to live , so faith helps us to have more trust and trust helps us to have more faith.”
If then some readers were not believers, “for them it’s valid what neuroscience says, namely that the brain has important functions and if we know how to use it well we can become people who express happiness despite any difficulties. It is not necessarily a matter of believing or not believing. The important thing is that you treat yourself well and that you acquire that capacity to love life.”
Turning to his book, explains the author: “I first analyze the causes of the phenomenon. Why do we complain? And then, how is a victim born? It’s not like one wakes up in the morning and decides to be a victim. There is a whole family, social, work, school path that leads the person to feel the victim of the situation. And then in the third part, I discuss how one can give up complaining, through some practical situations. I tell you what you can do to better face your life and to make it better, because if there is a verb we should all use, it is ‘to improve.’ We all come from a long tradition of ‘lamentation,’ which, however, has never improved, apparently, the quality of life, at least the interior one.”
Even the sign, under the heading “Complaining Forbidden,” warns that “offenders are subject to a syndrome of victimization with a consequent lowering of the mood and ability to solve problems.” It continues: “the penalty is doubled if the violation is committed in the presence of children.” And it concludes: “To become the best you need to focus on your potential and not on your limits then: stop complaining and act to change your life for the better.”
“The last time I went to see the Pope,” adds Noè, “he told me: ‘the sign is there on the door. When someone comes to meet me and sees it, we usually end up laughing and discussing about it. So I keep always the book on the desk and then I suggest: now if you want to know how to stop complaining, read this book!’ Of course, this enthusiasm of the Pope gives me even more strength, in spreading the message, but it is also a great responsibility!”