Are You Rocking in Give-Up America?
The internet is jam-packed with self-help information. Whether it is regarding weight-loss, theology, relationships, social problems, or just a general overview to mastery of the universe, theories to every problem in life, both real and perceived, abound thousands of times over. And what does pretty much every system for the betterment of self involve? “Doing” something.
So, is there anything wrong with owning our problems, being proactive? Well, it depends. I’m not here today to outright spit in the face of conventional wisdom. Many times the best answer is to get up off of our tuckus and do something, but I do want to spend some time with you discussing how much less destructive simply doing nothing can often be in comparison to always insisting that one must act. The benefits to giving up are many, from preservation of physical and mental health to a more environmentally friendly world to the prevention and successful undermining of inhumane practices, doing nothing may be our most sensible course of action more often than you think.
When Doing Nothing is Not Sensible:
You are stranded out in the Badlands of North Dakota. The sun is beginning its descent beyond the horizon and temperatures are falling fast. What choice do we make?
Well, do nothing and you will most definitely die. And to some this may be the desirable decision, but let’s assume you are among the 99.9% plus of the animal kingdom possessing a survival instinct. In this scenario survival, obviously, involves doing something: starting a fire, finding shelter, keeping your body temp up through movement, something!
Is doing nothing ever the right response?
Can Giving up be Benificial to Your Health?
Yes there are situations like the above example in which we must act, but too often we misdiagnose a problem as in need of a response, when the best course of action might be to just give up. For example, it has been said that your life is worth nothing without your health.
Let’s say you are working for a major corporation and pulling in a good salary doing it. Great! But let’s also say this wonderful salary has consequences. For example, you have had to give up certain luxuries like sleeping, spending time with your family, having hobbies and interests, a conscience, etc. You consume a case of energy drinks a day and your heart rate and blood pressure are so high they have to be expressed exponentially.
You have good health insurance, your spouse has a luxury sedan, your children have all the best new gadgets, you have a home to be envied, but you are also going to be dead in a few months. Everyone wants good health insurance, but just try telling the Grim Reaper you have an excellent health provider. Abuse your body and the outcome is no respecter of a quality HMO.
These wonderful toys you’ve provided your family, if you keel over by 50, they’ll most likely become a liability for your loved ones, not treasure. The house, the car, the gadgets, are any of them completely paid for? When your heart stops so do the payments: bankruptcy, foreclosure, sadness and woe for the ones you wanted to protect most of all.
All this might have been avoided if you had simply given up. Quit! Do something you like that provides time for your family and a healthy lifestyle. Will you be able to make enough money to support your family if you give up on the six digit corporate gig? I don’t know. Maybe so, or maybe you’ll fail and fall on your face, but guess what, at least you won’t be dead.
In times past the saying went as follows, “The man who can’t provide for his family is no kind of man at all.” Well, whether it be man or woman, there is one kind of family provider that is far worse than one who comes up short financially, and that is a dead one.
The Lord is my sheppard; I shall not want.— Psalm 23:1
Does Doing Nothing Make You Any More Insignificant?
Go take a look at your storage shed, your attic, your wherever you put things you don’t use anymore. If you are anything like most people, you are likely to find a treadmill, ab machine, a Pocket Fisherman, food dehydrator, a Snugee, any of a million different things that you bought because you convinced yourself it would improve your life.
What is the impact of such consumer dalliances? Well, besides a chronically anemic bank account, you’re aiding in the depletion of our natural resources. All this crap that you thought would make you happy, that has been around the world ten times over to get made, that has been constructed from nonrenewable resources plucked from the bowels of Mother Earth, did it really make life all that much better?
They always try to convince us that the change we need in life requires we buy something. If you just buy this thing, this one more thing, then you’ll never need another thing again. What if we choose to just do nothing—to just enjoy life and quit buying into the delusion of happiness through things?
I went to see Mount Rushmore once. It was amazing, but as amazing as it was, I couldn’t help but have a laugh at all us folks standing there and admiring it. It took a team of workers 15 years to carve this great monument, yet in comparison to the beauty of the untouched national parkland around it, it really is just a big nothing.
And the natural world reigns supreme. It took two generations of the Borglum family to oversee Mount Rushmore’s manufacture, yet if nature so chose, it could produce an upheaval that would demolish it in seconds.
Am I saying Mount Rushmore is a bad thing and shouldn’t have been built? Absolutely not. I’m just saying that rather than using its production to gage the significance of the human race, as it so often is, we should use it to gage our insignificance.
Whatever we do with our lives, it will never be as significant, as beautiful, as large and awe-inspiring, as expertly designed as what the nature of our world has and continues to accomplish, and the significance of the nature of our world will never even amount to a blip on the radar in comparison to the powers at play that keep the universe going.
At best with our actions we might hope to design some bobble of flattery to our natural world: Mount Rushmore, the Golden Gate Bridge, Lady Liberty. At worst and far too often our flights of fancy just go to the destruction of this insignificant piece of rock we call earth.
Is all of this a little depressing? Why? To me it is freeing. The fact that nothing I could ever do could ever really be all that important, frees me up to enjoy life, to do nothing on occasion and be just fine with it. It adds a bit of humor to everything that is said and done in the name of seriousness.
So many people get it in their heads that we must be constantly moving, doing, producing without regard to it being for good or ill, even to the point of hating those of us that have the ability to sit back, do nothing, make do with what we got, and enjoy our world un-festooned.
The point being made here is not to spend your whole life doing nothing. If you feel a need to carve faces in the side of a mountain, if you feel it will truly give you joy, maybe give it a go. But don’t delude yourself into believing you’re doing good, that you’re changing the universe. The universe was doing its thing long before we came along, and it will be doing its thing long after our memory and physical person is long erased from its memory.
and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.— Ecclesiastes 12:7
Is Doing Nothing Ever the Appropriate Response to Tragedy?
There is much that is wrong and stupid and just downright unfair about our world. To combat these problems we often demand action, from safety warnings on power tools to signs telling us not to crash our vehicles in a certain area because the guardrail is defective. And again, I’m not saying to never respond; I’m just dismissing the notion that we must always do something.
There are so many examples that are pertinent here, but let’s use the tragedy of 911 as a starting point. Planes were taken over by terrorist who proceeded to crash them into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field en route to another target.
How might this tragedy have been avoided? A cockpit that always remains locked with a heavy-duty door, with an emphasis on having a heavy-duty door. How did we respond to this tragedy? We forfeited an unprecedented number of our freedoms. We went to war with a country that had little or very likely no involvement in the terrorist attacks, and we took to ignoring the basic human rights that our country was founded upon.
Yet book a flight today and take a look at the cockpit door, the one thing that absolutely needed fixing. You’ll see a very flimsy door with a lock of suspect quality. All this action, all these terrible things we as a country did, and all pointless. For a terrorist to repeat the acts of 911 the blueprint is still basically the same: smuggle a box cutter on the airplane and breakdown the flimsy cockpit door.
What if the U.S., instead of running around in a frenzy like a bunch of fools, had just put in some better cockpit doors and went on with life as usual? But no, we demanded action; we demanded something much larger!
Let’s use our prison system as another example of where doing nothing might have served us better. A few decades ago the argument about the prison system was always one concerning revolving doors, prisoners being released seemingly as quickly as they were convicted.
Since then all politicians have become proactive. Democrat or Republican, the agenda regarding prisons has been unified: Get tough! Get rid of all the “luxuries” in prison and enforce longer and longer sentences for lesser and lesser crimes.
The result is a U.S. that doesn’t even pretend prisons are for the purpose of rehabilitation anymore and an embarrassing percentage of our population being held behind bars with little hope of getting out in a timely fashion and almost no hope of doing anything but getting thrown right back in jail after they are released. All of this done at a tremendous expense to taxpayers.
What if we had just made sure violent criminals served adequate sentences and had left it at that? Yeah, a revolving door isn’t perfect, but going to jail for 15 years because you like your kind bud really doesn’t either.
Additionally, as a consequence of our “getting tough on crime,” our criminals are getting tougher, too. Why? Because If you’re going to jail for the majority of your life regardless of the level of crime you commit, you’re best off to just go ahead and murder anyone who gets in your way.
Have you ever been made uncomfortable and forced into a hastey response?
One more example. Have you been to a modern school? If you have, most likely a policeman greeted you as soon as you stepped foot on the campus and asked you to state your business. From there you went to a locked door and were asked to state your business at the school via intercom.
If your reason for being at the school was deemed valid, from there you were buzzed in and went thru a metal detector monitored by another officer and were escorted to the front office.
So, why have our schools became such venues of Orwellian prophecy? Because of school shootings like Columbine. What has all this heightened security accomplished? Absolutely nothing. School shootings still happen, if anything, more often than they once did.
What should have been done to stop school shootings? As far as school security is concerned, little to nothing. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but there are people in this world who do bad things. It can’t be stopped.
When you send your child to school in the morning there are an infinite number of bad things that can happen to them, but statistically, even today, the chance of your child being murdered at school is several thousand times less likely than he or she getting hit by lightning. Yet we had to react. We had to do something. We couldn’t just mourn our losses as a community that loves one another and move on.
On a whim, in response to an event that is so statistically unlikely to happen it can’t be truly comprehended, we took away all of our children’s rights and started treating them all like criminals 8 or more hours a day 5 days a week. There is truth in the saying, “Treat someone like a criminal and they’ll act like a criminal.” Even if we could keep our children safer by monitoring their every thought, what sort of world are we preparing them for? Certainly not a free one, not a democracy.
Can Doing Nothing Ever be Used in Rebellion?
What if I told you that all leaders, from elected heads of state to despotic monsters, are basically powerless, from Franklin Delano Roosevelt to Adolf Hitler, From Stalin to JFK, from Barrack Obama to Kim Jong-un, all with no real power except for that which can be based in the abstract?
Would you say I’m crazy? Let’s think about this. Every time I read an article about the things that are wrong with the world, passionate readers at their boiling points are screaming for action, rebellion, but not just any rebellion, the bloody violent variety.
Their hearts are in the right place, but so often it is this exact style of “take no prisoners” reactionary response that has got us in our current state of decrepitude in the first place. Might I suggest another way? How about doing nothing?
In such situations one of the most powerful things we can do is absolutely nothing. A leader without followers is just a person. What if at the heights of the Depression U.S. Citizens had decided to just not take part in any of the programs FDR helped orchestrate to stimulate the economy? The U.S. would probably be a third world country today. In this situation, it would have been very ill-advised to do nothing.
Conversely, what if all the people in North Korea just said, “Hey, we’re not doing this anymore!” what if everybody just up and quit one day? What if just half the people quit doing their jobs, or even just a quarter? There would be death and sacrifice, it would require a level of bravery by the masses beyond reproach, but eventually the whole system would be undermined and it would just fall apart.
What people sometimes fail to understand is that it is not Kim Jong-un going to the houses of defectors families and murdering them. It is not Hitler who loaded all those who opposed him or offended his eyes onto trains and sent them to concentration camps. It is the result of thousands of people losing their individuality and just doing what they are told.
One can give orders, and if people react then this person is a leader. If people quit reacting, or better yet, never react, then said person is of no consequence.
Leaders are powerless when we do nothing. This is true in any form of government. The figurehead’s power can be one of two things: either an extension of the people or an illusion perpetrated by charlatans. I prefer the former, but so often we have the latter thrust upon us, even in democracies where this sort of thing isn’t supposed to happen.
Among the most disgusting distortions of this power to do nothing is when the government goes on strike. The powerless, the government that is put in place to do our bidding, succumbing to the power of the wealthy few. The people collectively are the ones with the power to do nothing, not our elected minions.
Look at it this way, the figureheads that represent us and refuse to work could be replaced in a matter of weeks. Population wise, of their own they represent almost nothing. However, if we the people choose to do nothing, this is perhaps the magnum opus of a society.
A majority doing nothing—when we choose to do nothing for what one might have to endure in boredom, there is often less waste, less destruction, less violence, less war, often more to be found in the way of perspective, understanding, thought, and peace.
Well, what can we take from all of this talk of doing nothing? I would like to think that next time something bad happens and some angry man or woman stands before us shaking his or her fist demanding that we do this and that without any real provocation or reason, that we do the exact opposite and think. That we don’t commit to kneejerk reactions and overkill.
I would like to think that before berating and marginalizing those who choose to not react at all, we first at least consider their point of view—that maybe just maybe sometimes doing nothing is the best thing one can do.