Lessons in Gratitude Day 993–The Wisdom of Nothing

Sometimes the best answer is to wait, to take no action on a particular thing and simply wait to see what happens. “Don’t just do something, stand there!” a little zen joke suggests. And so I did. It recently had a situation in which I wasn’t quite sure what to do, so rather than plunge blindly in and take a particular action, I decided to do nothing. In the midst of my inaction, the situation resolved itself in my favor. Had I made a move it is hard to say what would have happened–at the very least it would have cost me more than waiting did.

People sometimes mistake waiting for inaction. Waiting is often a very active process. When faced with the situation I mentioned earlier I had a number of possible actions to take: (a) run after something I wasn’t sure that I wanted or that was “for” me, (b) walk away from something that potentially was exactly what I needed/wanted, (c) wait and do nothing and let things unfold. There’s probably a (d) and maybe even an (e), but those were the options I saw in front of me in the situation. I will add that there was an element of emotion involved in all three alternatives. For (a) it was desperation: “Oh geez if I don’t do this then I won’t get something wonderful. With option (b) it was irritation, “well if it’s going to be like that then forget it. I don’t want it. There are other things I can have instead of this one. And option (c) it was the “let’s leave it up to the Universe” option that said, “Let’s not do anything. Let’s wait and see what happens.”

At the end of the day, doing nothing resulted in my getting the thing that I wanted without having to struggle for it. I think I had to let go, to be willing to walk away. It was either going to work out for me or it wasn’t, but I didn’t have the time or energy to expend worrying about it. And so I did something–nothing–and I waited. It could be that I’m too tired this evening to explain how doing nothing worked out pretty well for me in this situation. Obviously, doing nothing is not always the best option; in fact doing nothing can sometimes appear to have negative consequences. I think it requires discernment to truly know when to take a particular action and when that action is to do nothing. It’s kind of like the serenity prayer that’s so often cited in 12-step processes: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things that I cannot change,” (do nothing), the courage to change the things that I can,” (taking action), “and the wisdom to know the difference,” (discernment about when to do nothing and when to take action.)

Recently I was mildly chastised by a coworker for not being particularly swift in making a decision and taking action on some things that he perceived needed to be done. “You are a person in authority,” he told me, “you can’t be waiting around for everyone to agree and reach consensus. You just need to do it.” In one way I agreed with him, but went on to explain that sometimes what looks like inaction was really not inaction at all. “Why aren’t they doing something about such-and-such?” We opine when we perceive that our elected leaders, our bosses, people in authority appear to be “doing nothing.” And let me be clear: more often than not I am one of those folks who feel like we are surrounded by “do nothings.” And yet I am coming to understand that some of them aren’t passively doing nothing, they are actively doing nothing. Doing nothing can in some cases be a strategy.

I’m grateful for the wisdom of doing nothing. Sometimes doing nothing is exactly what I need to–well–do. For me the challenge is knowing when doing nothing is the wise course and when intentional action is being called for. Tonight, however, I am grateful for one of those times when doing nothing was the correct response to the situation and one that ended with a positive outcome. I celebrate doing nothing!

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