A Question of Balance

“It’s a question of balance.” I guess, this might be the most often-used phrase on this blog. Today, again, I would like to write about an important balancing act that is not easy to achieve. Particularly so, as we have to achieve it (almost) everyday. It is the balance between being satisfied, on the one hand, and not being satisfied, on the other.

To explain what I mean, it is best to describe the two “unbalanced” extremes between which, I believe, the question of balance is imperative. Both extremes can be easily found among the people one knows, at least in the so-called developed world. On the one hand, there are the ones who never get satisfied–living, as I do, in one of the richest, most democratic, most safe countries in this world, they keep complaining about politicians, fellow citizens, immigrants, low pay, militant leftists, militant rights, bad food quality, housing prices, energy bills, taxes, windmills, EU bureaucracy… The list is virtually endless. These are people who are never satisfied, which is, at least in this extreme form, extremely ungrateful. One needs just to look across the border to, say, Ukraine, Middle East, Hungary, Africa, South-East Asia, to find examples of societies in which many would dream of or at least prefer living here. Having enough to eat, not having to constantly fear assault or incarceration, having the right to vote or to speak out, having either a job or some unemployment benefits, access to public transport and public health services, public education… Constant bashing of one’s own living conditions is to some extent hypocritical and certainly egoistic. It is also blind to how lucky one is. We should be able to see the blessings we, inhabitants of the “developed world”, enjoy when compared with the vast majority of human beings. Being grateful for what one has is not only important for our psyche, but also morally right.

Sometimes, not being satisfied can be very lucrative.

On the other hand, there are those who are completely satisfied and do not see a reason for change. Often, they are afraid of change, because change might mean loss of privileges, decrease in living standards, inconvenience etc. This is a natural fear, and change can often be psychologically overwhelming, so we try to keep it away. These “satisfied ones” are those who vote for conservative parties and who do not want to hear about the problems of others (to quote such a person I know personally: after I tried to explain why I do not want to eat meat, that I had read too much about how bad livestock is treated, the astonished answer was: “Why do you read such things?”). They are sticking to the status quo, often for the price of blocking access for anything that might question this status quo. This is selfish, too. It means implicitly assuming that if our current situation is satisfying for ourselves, this is enough. This is what counts.

The problem is, however, that the world is far from perfect. Even in the rich, democratic countries, problems abound: inequality, outdated systems of education, xenophobia, environmental destruction–just to name a few examples. The farther our perspective reaches, the more notorious these and other problems become. Thus, there are reasons for change.

The difficulty is to manage the balancing act between gratitude for what one and others in one’s surrounding have (while many others do not) on the one hand, and the will to make things better nevertheless on the other. So, in the end, it’s a question of balance.

Thanks to M.N. for inspiration.

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2 thoughts on “A Question of Balance

  1. Wow, this touches exactly on something I was exploring in the last quote of my last post – how to find the middle-ground between change and acceptance. I’ve come across a lot of sentiments of entitlement that irks me because it goes against being appreciative of what we have in society, but at the same time – being completely content leads to stagnation and corruption. Where’s the balance?

  2. Well, the balance is somewhere in between… The problem is, of course, that it cannot be objectively localised. It is rather an everyday effort to keep this balance. In his 1987 book Shifting Involvements Albert O. Hirschman described how this is a kind of pendulum swinging between “private involvement” and “public involvement”. His perspective were somewhat different from mine, but still very informative: he argued that people who become dissatisfied with how things work in the public (private) sphere “shift” their involvement to the private (public) one. Back and forth, back and forth. So, I guess, the main point is that we do not get stuck at one of the two extremes. It’s all about balance;-)

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