Thursday, March 18, 2010

Contentment vs. Complacency

I get contentment. Especially in today's world: "Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers." My friend Chip Conley nailed it at his TED talk this year when he talked about happiness deriving from being content with what you have, rather than always seeking more of what you don't have, can't have, don't really want, don't really need.

What I don't get is complacency.

I was just in Detroit giving a talk on leadership and change. The speaker before me assured the audience that, when it comes to the Michigan economy, there's a "light at the end of the tunnel."

Today the New York Times reports that Detroit is set to close 45 of its 172 public schools at the end of this year--and that Detroit has closed more than 100 schools since 2004, and still has seats for more than 50,000 students than are actually in the system. Here's the money quote from the Times: "I think you can say Detroit has hit bottom," said Jack Jennings, president of the Center on Education Policy, a research group in Washington.

Yesterday in the Times, David Leonhardt wrote a brilliant column. His topic: Wagner's Law--a principle that says that as a nation gets richer, it taxes itself more to pay for the good things it wants its citizens to enjoy. Only the U.S. seems to have repealed Wagner's Law. We've grown richer, cut taxes--and still demanded more good things! Which is the real source of our massive deficit. Here's the money quote: "By any reasonable projection, we're on an utterly unsustainable path," Peter Orszag, the White House budget director, told me last week."

These are urgent matters. Urgent matters require serious responses.

We may all wish for contentment in our lives.

None of us can afford complacency.

All Rights Reserved 2009 (c) Alan Webber, Rules Of Thumb