Psychology and the IA Brain; A Culture of Complaining

By Abigail Kendal (“22)

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It’s a typical Tuesday afternoon at the International Academy. Students cluster in groups surrounding the tables in the library and friends stroll up and down the hallways talking about the stressful nature of their school day. While many students speak about sports, extracurriculars, or homework, a common thread generally emerges among the many conversations that can be heard in the hallowed halls of the IA at 3:30pm on a Tuesday. And no, this thread isn’t in relation to what words are physically being spoken by us, the students,  but rather the way in which we say them is what I find problematic. In the International Academy and in high schools across America, students are continuing to personify the notion of negativity and perpetuate a culture of complaining. And I’ll admit that I am 100 percent guilty of this myself. It is so easy to get caught up in the stress of a rough day and feel the need to complain ad nauseam about an annoying teacher for ten minutes. And while this venting may be cathartic in the short term, what problems can it cause in the long term? How does creating a culture of continuous negativity and complaining ignore our inherent privilege as high school students at the International Academy? 


First things first, I want to acknowledge the idea that complaining is natural (and expected) from students at the IA. We work extremely hard for stellar grades in difficult courses while also splitting our time between an innumerable number of extracurricular activities. And while an occasional rant is needed here and there, what are the damaging effects of constant complaining? Psychologists have coined a popular catch-phrase to explain the potentially detrimental effects of ranting as, “neurons that fire together, wire together”. Psychologist Dr. Deann Ware explains this phenomenon as a way that the neurons within our brain communicate. She explains that commonly possessing a negative thought process can be as automatic as hitting a golf ball because we simply don’t realize it. This is due to the fact that neurons within the brain communicate and form connections similar to that of our muscle memory. In essence, as one brain cell releases a chemical, called a neurotransmitter, another neuron absorbs the same chemical. As this chemical process is repeated thousands of times, the connection between the cells strengthens and the messages being transmitted are repeated continuously and according to Ware, “with enough repetition, they become automatic”. Once our negative thoughts loop, it becomes increasingly difficult to stop them and begin thinking positively once again.


 Aside from the neuroscience issues associated with negativity, many social aspects are also involved. When we complain about trivial issues such as a large amount of homework or an annoying teacher, we minimize the significant issues plaguing other Americans and people across the globe. When we complain about our turkey sandwich, we ignore the children who do not have access to a healthy lunch. When we complain about homework, we ignore the children whose dream it is to attend school. Long story short, complaining about small issues ignores our inherent privilege as students at the International Academy.


So the next time you start ranting about yet another turkey sandwich or your third TEDEDC of the week, consider this: maybe that turkey tastes kind of good and all the TEDEDCs may actually improve your writing? Only you can find out.

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