In a recent post to his blog, Jack’s Winning Words, pastor Freed used this very apropos quote – “Progress is not created by contented people.” (Frank Tyger)
One does not need to be a scholar or history buff to know that most, if not all, of the changes (both large and small) that have happened in America grew out of someone’s discontent with the status quo. Even at our beginning as a new nation, many in what became known as America were content to be subjects of England and the rule of the English King. Throughout our history as a nation is has been discontent that changed the course of that history. Our discontent with staying put on the eastern side of the continent took the form of “Manifest Destiny” that drove explorers (and later settlers) westward. Discontent with the immorality of slavery eventually led to the Emancipation Proclamation. Later, discontent with the social, legal and economic situation that had evolved in the nation, mostly in the southern regions of the country, led to the Civil Rights Movement. It could be said that man’s discontent with being stuck on the surface of our planet led to the creation of aviation and later space flight and our moon landing. There are tons of other examples and all were driven by someone’s discontent with the existing situation.
The word “content” is relatively benign. It means – “in a state of peaceful happiness”. For some who do not see the problems at hand, that may actually mean “in a state of blissful ignorance”. For others is more of a state of “resigned acceptance” of things that are wrong. A lack of concern about anyone but ourselves can lead to a state of numbness or callousness about the events happening around us. Others may take offense at any disturbance of their otherwise serene and prosaic environment.
The year 2020 is proving to be a year of great discontent. The discontent over the sexual exploitation of women in the educational, entertainment and business worlds carried over from 2019, with almost weekly exposures of new grievances. The jarring changes mandated by state governments in response to the COVID-19 Pandemic caused great discontent and exposed a long-festering rebellion against government authority and the basic concepts of society by groups on the fringes of society. Discontent boiled over into the streets in matters of race and inequality of opportunity in America. While the trigger for the protests in the street was the murder of a black man in Minnesota, the underlying discontent was with the continued and pervasive racial biases that dictate the day-to-day lives of people of color in America.
What will come out of all of this discontent? The hope is that changes will be made at a systemic level. Changes will be required to laws that support the bad behavior; but more importantly, changes will be required at the personal level. It really doesn’t matter if the law says it is illegal to discriminate, if we still do that in our hearts and minds at every encounter with someone different from us. That change will take longer and is impossible to legislate. Real change starts with you and with me. We must become discontented with not only the things that are happening around us that we know are wrong, but with our reaction (or lack of reaction) to those things. As I have opined here a few times, it is those “things left undone” that we must pray for forgiveness about, as well as the things that we may have done.
If you are to “love thy neighbor as yourself” you cannot start from a position of fear, hate and bias. Be discontented with that state of mind and seek to change it. Do not become satisfied and content with a state of affairs that positions you in comfort and safety while leaving many of those around you in poverty and despair. Take no comfort from your good fortune while ignoring the needs of your neighbors. Inequities are at the root of many of the problems that are causing the discontent that we see in our society right now – inequities of positional power or economics or opportunity. The systemic changes that are need must be aimed at identifying and righting those inequities.
If Tyger was right, this should be a year of great change, since it is already a year of great discontent. Let’s all look for the good that can come out of this discontent.