No Time for Complacency
Martin Luther King, in one of his speeches states; 'This is no time for apathy or complacency'. I believe this may be the origin of the currently in favour phrase 'This is no time for complacency'.
Our current political and medical experts leaders have repeated this phrase, along with the constantly recurring advice to stay at home in this unprecedented Coronovirus pandemic.
It is not so commonly paired with apathy, perhaps because accusing people of complacency is less inflammatory than describing them as apathetic. It is a phrase that appears to add gravitas to rhetoric with undertones of evangelism.
But what does complacency actually mean? Various dictionaries describe it as ' a feeling of smug or uncritical satisfaction with oneself or one's achievements', ' a feeling of contentment or self-satisfaction, especially when coupled with an unawareness of danger, trouble or controversy',' a feeling of being satisfied with how things are and not wanting to try to make them better'. In our present culture, it also seems to signify an unwillingness to become involved in political opinion.
We are exhorted to not be complacent about a multitude of topics. In the past few years alone, ‘there is no time for complacency’ about equality ,drugs used in competitive sport, trade developments in the EU, varroa treatment of bee populations, the medicalisation of e-cigs and cannabis and last but not least, climate change.
As if all that were not enough, turn on the television over the Christmas period especially and you are bombarded with heart tugging advertisements to save the tiger, whale, dolphins, donkeys and pets of all types. Then there are the starving children throughout the world, water contamination, deaf/mute children, those who are alone at Christmas, the homeless, refugees, war torn devastation and other distressing human conditions to consider.
To take into consideration all these demands for our attention places an impossible burden on the average person. In order to avoid complacency, we must also factor in present dangers and future risks. We must consider the heightened security status of the world today, be aware of terrorist threats, consider health and safety issues in the workplace, and remain vigilant for any abnormal or threatening behaviour in those around us. And now the present threat of the Coronavirus pandemic overwhelms us all.
Vladimir Nabokov stated: 'Complacency is a state of mind that exists only in retrospective; it has to be shattered before being ascertained’. It is true that we do not set out to become complacent. When accused of complacency we can either acknowledge that it might be true, or emphatically deny it (thus proving our complacency). We must all be complacent to a degree, as it is surely impossible to achieve a status of self-satisfaction without ignoring some aspects of concern about humanity and the environment. So is the theory proposed by Robert Bruce Raup in 1925 (then Professor in the Philosophy of Education at Columbia University) in his publication entitled 'Complacency: the Foundation of Human Behaviour', a continuing reality in today's society?
The NHS has introduced multitudes of protocols and performance management targets. Undoubtedly some areas of poor performance have improved as a result, but the end point becomes satisfaction at achieving a target without looking at potential further improvements. A 'good enough' culture is now established. This, in my opinion, simply affirms a base line of complacency.
Is it possible to exclude complacency from our lives? I very much doubt it. We almost need it as a fallback option when life gets too tough and the present dangers mushroom around us. A degree of self satisfaction is mandatory in order to experience contentment, and to be constantly battling with inadequacy, human distress, and environmental destruction creates paranoia and fearfulness.
I suggest that, occasionally, we need to find time for complacency: a short relief from the exigencies of this media heavy environment we live in, a place of simplification, a brief but welcome comfort zone before taking on the world again. So, use your complacency with care. A little in times of mental distress goes a long way. For the rest of the time, vigilance and self-distancing will work well along with frequent hand washing.