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One man's crusade to stop the world from complaining

The Rev. Will Bowen, a minister in Kansas City, encourages people to wear a bracelet that he hopes will remind them not to grouse or gossip for 21 days.

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A native of South Carolina, Bowen worked in various sales jobs – radio, Yellow Pages, insurance – for 15 years after graduating from the University of South Carolina with a degree in broadcast journalism. But he always felt drawn to the ministry. He combines a warm and outgoing personality with, by his own admission, a touch of ham. He was in his 30s when he finally answered the "undeniable call" and moved to Lee's Summit, Mo., to attend ministerial school at the world headquarters of Unity. He was ordained in 2003 and has been senior minister of Christ Church Unity since 2005.

According to Bowen, the main reason people complain is to excuse themselves from taking action. People encounter things they don't like and they complain because it's easier than finding a solution. Or they complain as a way of bragging or showing their sophistication.

Bowen was the first of his congregation to go 21 days without complaining (gossiping and sarcasm are no-nos, too). It took him about 10 weeks, which is pretty fast. He says it takes most people four to 10 months to make it for three straight weeks. "The average person complains 20 to 30 times a day and I was at the high end of that," he says. "Now I may complain two or three times a month. But I catch myself."

He cites Philippians 2:14, "Do everything without complaining," as biblical imperative for his movement. But his book, "A Complaint Free World: How to Stop Complaining and Start Enjoying the Life You Always Wanted," intentionally incorporates very little religion.

Bowen wants the book to appeal to a wide audience and sees the movement as larger than any single church or religious denomination. Indeed, schools, which cannot get into religion, order the most bracelets. His book includes quotes from a broad range of writers and historical figures, from Aristotle to Stephen Hawking to Lily Tomlin. The movement's slogan is a quote from poet Maya Angelou: "If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude. Don't complain."

Bowen's crusade draws diverse reactions from ministers and psychologists. Some see positive-thinking programs as beneficial, provided they're rooted in deeper character reforms. "In so far as a bracelet on your wrist is a tool to bring mindfulness to your daily modes of communication, I think that's wonderful," says the Rev. Canon Susan Sommer of Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral, a big Episcopal church in Kansas City. "It's not a panacea. But in the final analysis, transformation is hard work. We want the perfect diet where we can lose 20 pounds effortlessly, without really changing our eating habits."