I remember countless conversations at the kitchen counter that involved him excitedly and deliberately walking me or one of my siblings through a moment that required a decision. He always loved — and still does — systematically analyzing all the options on the table. He took glee in leading us through that exercise, then even more glee in stepping back and allowing us to make the call. (He loved the post-decision analysis, too.)
No matter how dire the situation we found ourselves tangled in was, one of my dad’s core lessons was — you can always do nothing. Doing nothing was always a viable option.
And doing nothing was NOT surrender or defeat or even something to feel ashamed of. Doing nothing could keep you safe, could secure an opportunity or allow for future opportunities to rise. But here’s the twist: if you choose to do nothing, just be clear it was chosen, not burdened upon you, not a yoke to bear in resentment or forced gratitude, it’s a viable choice you own and are honest about.
Even as a kid, I registered that pearly tidbit as wisdom.
Years later, in relationships, in work, in parenthood, it remains an iridescently wise and insightful notion — doing nothing is always an option.
I’ve realized, too, that doing nothing is probably the most common decision we make. We choose not to interfere with a disagreement in the grocery store or between co-workers. We choose not to take that trip or not to speak up when a friend is making a risky decision. We choose to let the teacher or our child handle the situation at school instead of swooping in to save the day.
But there are times when we forget that doing nothing is a choice.
We let ourselves believe that life has been done unto us. (Been there!) We forget the hundreds of little or big choices we made along the way that got us here. We conveniently edit out our decisions to behave a certain way, or to indulge in a certain vice or to accept a course of action we were not fully comfortable with in the first place. We forget we chose that. We forget that doing nothing is always an option — and that doing something else was, too.
That’s the beginning of the delusion that life has trapped us.
Don’t get me wrong — people get legitimately trapped in crappy situations all the time. And life gives us things we have no choice about.
But we always have a choice on how we react to those horrendous situations. We always can chose to act — or not. We always can chose to stay or go, to be defeated or empowered.
And good or bad, we can always revel in our uniquely human ability to choose.