|Last week, my five-year old daughter suffered a small fracture in her tibia just below the knee. Ultimately, she will be fine. As they say, we grow stronger in all the broken places. For now, she is laid up with a removable knee brace, unable to walk, go to school, or move freely about on her own.
She has warmed to this new situation. Reminiscent of Hodor and Bram from Game of Thrones, she must be carried everywhere and has an innate power over all of us as we cater to her every desire. The result is more TV, more unhealthy snacks, more UNO, more slack and more sympathy.
Eventually, the doctors tell us she will grow restless and begin to try to walk on her own. Before then, she will need to overcome the complacency born from both the fear of movement and reluctance to give up this new comfortable arrangement of care.
This relationship between restlessness and complacency is examined in Tyler Cowen’s book, The Complacent Class: The Self Defeating Quest for the American Dream. In it, he posits that America’s greatness, both as individuals and as a society, is tethered to our restlessness – our desire to try and do new things (like putting a man on the moon or moving to a new city).
According to Cowan, that restlessness has given way to complacency. The privileged like what they have, those in the middle dig in – afraid to risk what’s left and those who are stuck at the bottom feel hopeless.
Diverse phenomena such as NIMBYism (not in my back yard), political indifference, grown children living with their parents, opioid abuse and Spotify are all used as evidence of this new complacency.
Modern life has brought many creature comforts that serve as a salve for our boredom and restlessness. A short-term fix lulls us into a false sense of security for our current condition.
In my daughter’s case, what’s the harm with being carried everywhere, watching TV, eating snacks, and sending emojis to us from our babysitter’s phone? None, if it’s for a week or two. But after a month, it becomes quite the slippery slope.
Our current political anxiety has created one type of restlessness leading millions of Americans to become more civically engaged.
Another, perhaps more positive impetus for restlessness, is confidence. If people feel secure enough to take a risk, knowing the upside outweighs the potential downside.
This often requires a simplification of what we need to be happy. In that spirit, I leave you with the words of Thoreau:
Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined. As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler.”
Hope you have a positively restless week.
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