Complacency is the curse of comfort

by Stephen Cobb on April 18, 2015

A writer once wrote: Complacency is the curse of comfort. I think what he means is that a comfortable life can lead us to become complacent about the world’s problems, which can then turn up on our doorstep to discomfit us. Actually, I know that is what the writer meant, because I am that writer.

Back in the 1970s, when I was a long-haired student of the arts, my favorite writers, other than Shakespeare, were Montaigne, Bacon, and Blake. I liked Michel de Montaigne because he put so much of himself into his writing and pioneered literary non-fiction centuries long before it was called that. I liked Francis Bacon because he claimed the entire world as his subject matter. And I liked William Blake because he invented self-publishing, held picnics in the nude, and wrote some wicked proverbs, like: “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.”

I was fascinated with these proverbs and the way we humans will quote memorable sayings for centuries after the sayer has died. As a student I remember thinking that it would be cool to say something that memorable. I had been scribbling poems since I was eight and by eighteen I was writing everything from free form verse to sonnets (the latter were usually written to girlfriends, as in hand-written and hand delivered, so they have not survived). One day, it occurred to me to write a saying or proverb.

I looked around at my world of white privilege and felt how seductive it was to relax back into the comfortable life that was all around me; and then I saw my parents go out in the evenings, often after a hard day of work, and try to raise money for worthy causes, try to raise awareness of injustices that afflicted others, often on the other side of the world. I realized that there was more to being alive than being comfortable. That’s when I came up with: “Complacency is the curse of comfort.”

Of course, I then had to figure out how to spread my proverb to the world. I carried on writing poetry but my efforts to get published went nowhere. I thought about being a playwright but that seemed even less likely to get me published than being a poet. I did plot a number of novels and I figured that I would put those wise words into the mouth of one of my characters. (All of this was before self-publishing and digital publishing became a big deal, and although Blake was a brilliant poet and artist but his publishing business was not a big money maker.)

Eventually, my career in computers and security took up all of my writing energy. In a period of seven years I wrote more than twenty big thick computer texts. They accumulated sales of more than one million books, but they were all what you might call non-literary non-fiction.

When blogging came along I saw a chance to “publish” a few things that were more creative, like the story of the little redback spider and the truth about what Willie Sutton said. And now of course, I have published my proverb. One of the many benefits of the Internet is that it simplifies laying claim to words. I have Googled “Complacency is the curse of comfort” numerous times and it does appear that I am the person who said this.

I am also the person who said: “The best weapon with which to protect information is information.” True enough, but hardly a universally useful saying. So I need to work on more inspired aphorisms, like Blake’s:

  • The most sublime act is to set another before you.
  • The man who never alters his opinion is like standing water, and breeds reptiles of the mind.
  • If the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise.

I live if hope!

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