Sunday, April 15, 2007
Dissatisfaction and Complacency
What drives someone to excel? To reach beyond their current situation and to strive for something greater?
Often, we speak of the need to find contentment with where are lives are at, with what we are currently doing. This is Zen-like: living joyfully in the now, appreciating the wonders of the present without clamoring for the future or regretting the past. But when does Zen transform into complacency?
Should Martin Luther have been content with the corruption he regarded in the Catholic church? Should Christopher Columbus have been satisfied and remained in ignorance at the center of a flat earth? Should Thomas Jefferson have stayed comfortably within the maternal auspices of the British Empire? Should Winston Churchill have succumbed to political pressures and placated the advancing Nazis? Should MLK have disregarded the racial injustice swirling around him and quietly accepted the brutality of his white oppressors?
My friend Dan and I had a conversation along these lines yesterday. It seems that the great persons of history were usually nudged forward by the elbow of their discontentment with the status quo.
If we were completely satisfied with the present, what would impel us towards the future, towards improvement and progress? If we were perennially satisfied with the greenness of our own grass, would we ever venture outside our own pastures?
But this motivating dissatisfaction, if unopposed, can be equally poisonous to our well-being. "It's no secret that ambition bites the nails of success," says Bono. Should life be a never-ending quest to find something better than what we've got right now? That fast lane of ambition seems to drive CEOs to prison and Latin American politicians to be deposed and hanged.
I guess walking this tightrope between dissatisfaction and complacency is one of the many tricks we learn in life's circus; can we balance between them without tipping over and falling to our premature deaths?
More to the point: is being a small-town doctor in Wyoming enough to keep my happy?
Or is this gnawing restlessness in my stomach driving me towards some yet unforeseen greatness?
Or do I just have bad indigestion?
Posted by Mark at 1:30 PM