I read an article this evening that, hours later, is still reverberating in my head. To paraphrase its main thesis, Actions that we take have consequences. So do actions that we do not take.
(If you want to read the article, it’s called “The High Cost of the Actions We Don’t Take”, by Paul Michelman, at www.sloanreview.mit.edu .)
You don’t often hear about this. The common wisdom is Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. The inaction, or non-action, presumably wafts into a black hole, impacting nobody and nothing. It’s not worth thinking about.
Well, it actually is. Non-action is also a form of action. Not speaking up is the same as staying quiet. Not reading is the same as choosing to be ignorant. Not following your dream is the same as shortchanging yourself.
They all have consequences. Your rights go away. You don’t expand your mind and learn new things. You hang in limbo, wondering about a life that could have been.
At a more banal level, you don’t lose the weight because you did not resist the dessert, you don’t feel stronger because you didn’t go to the gym, and you don’t feel calm because you didn’t meditate.
There’s a positive way to think about this too, picking the non-action that is supportive of goals. By not eating the dessert, I’m choosing to lose weight. By not clinging to my bed, I’m showing up to a fitter me. By not binge-watching, I’m creating the space for my mind to be tamed.
I find this hugely motivating. Often, doing what is good and healthy is villainised as denial and costly sacrifice. A small shift in the way we look at our non-actions makes those same deeds empowering. More importantly, they start looking like forward steps on the journey we have committed to. They get a sense of progression, reaching closer to our goal.
Our life is made up of both active and passive choices, actions and non-actions. After reading that article, I have found a new appreciation for all the good that my non-actions are doing, and made me more mindful about the times when they may be harmful to others. As much as my actions, my non-actions also matter as I try to be a good human being.