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Country of Negative Nellys

January 16 , 2021
By Kidist Yidnekachew ( Kidist Yidnekachew has degrees in psychology and journalism and communications. She can be reached at )

I was a month postnatal when I discovered a familiar way of communicating in Ethiopia. Many visitors came to see me, as they often do after a couple has a baby.

“How are you?” one person would ask. The person the question is directed to would answer, “Well, life is very hard, I am struggling, and I cannot do anything about it, but I don’t complain thanks to God.”

It is a common way of updating one another: complain, then add that one does not want to complain. It is an indictment to the fact that we have a population of Negative Nellys. In my response to people that ask, I also found that the negativity rubs off.

Complaining to some of us comes as second nature. Even when things are going smoothly, we still find something to moan about. If it is not our lives, then it is the weather; if it is not that, it is politics. For a long time, I did not realise I was in this loop.

It is often surprising to be brought to attention, because we usually find it hard to hold up a mirror to ourselves. The way I saw it, my complaints were about the small stuff, like being hungry or tired, but not the big stuff.

What is the harm in that?

But I was wrong, learning that I too am in the complaining committee. And my moaning and groaning worsened as I conversed with people that complain a lot. Our entire conversation becomes a puddle of protests about small things and big.

It needs constant vigilance to beat this habit, to break the loop and stop. I continue working on it, but I started to take my challenges as opportunities to grow instead of complaining about them. And it felt good, as it did not make me feel bitter. Instead, it made me feel like a strong woman who would take anything that comes her way.

Recently, I saw someone become successful in doing something I had the idea to do years ago. An idea I pitched to various people in my social circle, who told me that it was too silly and a waste of time. I gave up even before I started.

Of course, most of us know by the time we are adults that what we aspire to and the roles assigned to us by society do not always match. It is clear that following what we want will help us become more content. It is a central focus of motivational speakers. But it is not easy to do this either.

We cannot just cut people out of our lives only because they complain about stuff or put our ideas down. Unless they present a clear and present danger, we stick by them. Taking negativity from a massive amount of critiques is hard, and even our positivity and abilities to drown out the background noise get tested. It makes us doubt ourselves.

We can only imagine how celebrities deal with the complex psychological effects of having their lives under the microscope, constantly being judged and prodded. No wonder that this is a class identified with higher rates of substance abuse.

The negative attention celebrities are faced with is also apparent in Ethiopia. They are ridiculed and shunned. Some stand up to this with dignity and excel in their own way. Zeritu Kebede has always been one of my favourite artists as a result.

At the beginning of her career when her first album dropped in 2005 with a unique style, people began to lambast her.

“Who does she think she is, Celine Dion?” they said.

She kept at her craft and did not let their pessimistic comments make her backtrack from her career. She went further and made her performance style even more out of the ordinary for the Ethiopian music industry. She is one of the few who gained acknowledgement from international audiences and still pushes the envelope. One of the songs she released in the past two years, “Azmari Negn” seems to be a retort to the negativity thrown at her.

There is a lesson to be taken from celebrities of her cut. We need to be more thick-skinned and positive. Otherwise, the Negative Nellys will win.

PUBLISHED ON Jan 16,2021 [ VOL 21 , NO 1081]

Kidist Yidnekachew has degrees in psychology and journalism and communications. She can be reached at

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