I have been rather complacent for most of my life. Don’t get me wrong, I was quite active in promoting and participating in the civil rights movement when I was in college. I spent over forty years advocating for my mentally ill mom. I fought for educational opportunities for every child. Beyond that though I’ve been rather chill through most of my life. My involvement in politics other than voting was practically nil. My life was good so I felt that I had little reason to be concerned about much beyond the confines of my home.
I tend to be a person who spurns conflict. I’m diplomatic by nature and ever so polite. I prefer blending into the background to leading a movement. I prefer quiet to raucous events. Sometimes, however, duty calls and I feel compelled to speak out no matter what doing so may cost me.
Many years ago I was working at one of my all time favorite schools. Every single day of teaching there was a joy and I sometimes imagined myself retiring from the place like a female version of Mr. Chips. Sadly, the environment quickly changed when a new principal arrived to manage all aspects of the school. At first she was nice enough, but she gradually demonstrated a number of disturbing ideas and habits. After a time she became downright authoritarian and even a bit disturbing. For example, the girls’ Physical Education Teacher installed curtains on the showers that she purchased with her own money to provide the young ladies with some privacy. When the principal saw them she unexpectedly became infuriated and stormed out of the gym. A few minutes later she returned bearing a large pair of scissor that she used to cut down the curtains in front of the stunned coach.
It would take pages to recount the outrageous things the principal was doing but suffice it to say that morale among the teachers was incredibly low. Many members of the faculty were mumbling and grumbling and whispering about plans to leave the school as soon as they found teaching positions elsewhere. One of them was a dedicated educator who was undergoing chemotherapy for cancer. She had managed to schedule all of her infusions after school hours so that over the many weeks she had never missed a single day of work. Instead of applauding her for her courage and sacrifice the principal had complained that the woman had lost her energy and enthusiasm, giving her a low mark on an evaluation.
I suppose that I have always been a champion of the underdog, so I took it upon myself to make an appointment with the principal to outline some of the concerns that my colleagues and I had. I did it in the spirit of helping her to understand that morale was nil. I thought she would thank me for my honesty, but instead she interrogated me for eight hours as though I was a criminal. She wanted me to name the people who had complained about her which I refused to do. In the end I knew that I would have to leave the place that had once been so wonderful. After I left, the school board fired her.
Sometimes being complacent is a cowardly thing. There really are moments when we need to assert ourselves, speak out. It’s been said that the only thing worse than a bad person abusing others is a good person who says nothing. Silence can be damning to those without the ability to defend themselves. Accepting the status quo just because it has always been there way can often be hurtful. We may want to look the other way, but we know in our hearts that doing so is wrong.
Complacency is sometimes an indication of satisfaction and maybe even happiness. It’s uncomfortable to be in a position of needing to defend or assist or care for those who have no voice. Most people would rather walk away from a difficult situation than deal with it. I know that feeling as well as anyone because there were many instances when I wanted to wash my hands of dealing with my mother’s mental illness. I thought of how wonderful it would be to ignore it or run away from it. Instead I had to face it.
Everyone has difficulties, some of which are very dark and which they never share with others. They paste on a happy face and greet the world as though all is well. Sadly they may be enduring unimaginable hurt and pain, accepting their situations, with a stiff upper lip. While I understand that there are people don’t wish to share their personal trials, I worry about those who ignore abuse and injustice whether it is happening to them, someone they know or a stranger. More often than we wish, we must step out of our comfort zones to face the problems of this world head on.
I’ve noticed that the history of the world has a kind of recurring rhythm. Humans rage against problems for a time, foment changes, and then retreat back into a kind of quiet complacency. They become weary of the battles and need to recoup until the pressure from real troubles becomes too much to bear and then they rally again.
I suspect that we are in one of those periods in which some situations can no longer be ignored. We have a worldwide health emergency. Russia is rattling sabers. The economy is bowing under the strain of two years of uncertainty. The world’s homeless population only continues to grow. Mental illnesses are raging. Crime is out of control with more guns on the streets than there are people. Climate change is destroying homes and lives.
We may want to pretend to be normal with our parties and concerts and movies, but inside we know that complacency has no place in our schedules right now. No one person or group is to blame for any of the challenges facing us. It will take all of us and much sacrifice to make genuine efforts to set things right. We can be complacent after we have done our best to work together to fix our broken parts. For now there is no rest for the weary.