A Chapel Talk by Ben Mencer ’20 on January 22, 2019
- a poem by Asante’
It was a beautiful moment
One where she realized
does not equate
does not yield joy.
So she moved,
not only her feet.
She moved mountains.
The earth quaked beneath her,
and flowers bloomed.
THIS is how it feels
to be alive.
Complacency is such a big term that covers a broad range of meanings but in a big picture sense of things, like in the poem, “complacency” deals with more abstract and conceptual issues.
In the poem, the threat of being complacent is shown to be the opposite of calm and peace. This has much more profound implications than simply being the opposite of being productive like the dictionary definition might suggest. If being complacent leads not only to stagnancy, a stand-still, but to a negative trend of behavior, then it is definitely something to be wary of.
Now in a more tangible sense, the problem with complacency is that it is ever present and ever threatening. There is a fine line that we walk everyday between being truly satisfied with the work that we’ve put into something - like the amount of time studying for a test or the hours poured into your sport - and being lured into a false sense of security about that work- being complacent. Becoming complacent can mean that you expect that same work to continue to get you what you want when in reality you might need to do double or triple that work to reach a newer, higher target. And for an athlete, an aspiring musician or an intellectual, this is something that cannot be allowed to happen.
There is a book written by Jim Collins, solely about how being good is the enemy of being great. Even though this might seem like a poor argument there is some substance to it because of complacency. When anybody gets to the point of being “good” at anything there is a very real possibility that the work ethic, determination and attitude that got that person there will fade because in their mind, being good is simply “good enough.” If I’m good at something why is there a need to be better than that? And if you’re only comparing what you do and the level at which you do it to others and their performance then this might be an acceptable attitude. This, I think, is what lies at the heart of complacency: it is the wrongful comparison of what you do to what others do. If you forget about everybody else around you and simply focus on your own continuous growth, then this problem of becoming stagnant or even taking backwards steps in your life would cease to exist.
If we were to take the example of someone who is “good” at what they do and say that this person is now the “best” at what they do, this would drastically change what is at stake for this person. Being the best means that everyone wants to have what you have and they are working to take it from you. If you get complacent with being the best then your time as the best will be short lived. Anybody who is in the upper echelon of their trade or craft and manages to stay there, does so through continuous self-improvement. Michael Jordan would lose sleep because he was afraid that someone was working to “catch” him while he was sleeping. This drove him to work during those times as well. This obsession that he had was extraordinary and you might argue that all of this doesn’t apply to you because you might not be the “best” at anything. However, even though you might not be the best at anything you are still fighting to be your best self and this commands the same continuous self-improvement.
Going back to the poem and how it tackles the big-picture problems with complacency like the potential for becoming stagnant or even back tracking…If you can manage to filter your judgments about whatever situation you are in, through thinking about self-improvement and not through comparison, then you will be able to avoid falling into the stagnancy that comes with being complacent. And now, if you are going to take anything away from this speech it should be this: focus on continuously improving yourself instead of comparing what you do to what others do. By doing this you will avoid becoming complacent and all the trouble that comes with it.
The poem is from https://hellopoetry.com/words/dissatisfaction/