Doing Nothing

Jan 7, 2010

I watched The Dark Knight a couple of times over the New Year Holiday. The thing that struck me most was the central idea of playing a villian to be the hero.

Here’s a conversation from the movie (courtesy of IMDb):

Bruce Wayne: People are dying, Alfred. What would you have me do?
Alfred Pennyworth: Endure, Master Wayne. Take it. They’ll hate you for it, but that’s the point of Batman, he can be the outcast. He can make the choice that no one else can make, the right choice.

And I think it’s an interesting thought. The idea that sometimes, the heroic thing to do is to do nothing. I think very often, we get so focused on coming up with solutions and trying to do somethings. Sometimes, I think, the best thing to do is just sit, and wait, and let things happen.

Last month, Alexandra Samuel wrote about how a smartphone can make you more patient, by making you more willing to accept delays. He poses the question:

On your way to meet a colleague, you get stuck in traffic. Radio traffic reports tell you it’s a ten-minute backup. You can spend ten minutes inching forward, or you cut out and take a circuitous route that will add 15 minutes to your drive, but it’ll be 15 minutes in which you’re moving. Which do you you choose?

I know some people who would choose the latter. Some of us just want to know we’re moving, that we’re doing something. And I think with the urgency and immediacy we face and expect in today’s world, I think that number is growing.

But that’s not always the best thing to do. Sometimes, it’s better to just be patient, and let things happen. Sometimes, it’s not what you do, but what you don’t do that counts. Sometimes, it’s better to do nothing.

The challenge, of course, is knowing when to take action and when not to, and to have the strength and patience to go through with it.

What do you think? Are there situations which are better suited to not doing anything, and letting it resolve itself?

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