When non-doing is better

One thing I’ve come to real­ize more and more in our soci­ety, is our ten­den­cy to inter­vene all the time in every­thing, for the sake of the inter­ven­tion. Things are being changed, teams are being shuf­fled, plans are being remade, … all the time, espe­cial­ly with a new-com­er. While some­times those changes can be good, most of the time they end up being quite a waste of time, ener­gy, and human resources, while they give the impres­sion that some­thing is accom­plished (when it’s not).

It’s inter­est­ing to find exam­ples every­where that, some­times, the act of non-doing is bet­ter than chang­ing things just for the sake of our ego. In Chinese, there’s the con­cept of Wu Wei, an impor­tant con­cept of Taoism which means non-doing or non-act­ing, to let things behave accord­ing to their nature, go with the flow. It’s inter­est­ing to note that the same thing was explained by the Stoics cen­turies ago, who put fol­low­ing nature as one of their core prin­ci­ple (if not the core principle).

You can find a relat­ed thing in chess, with the zugzwang, where you are forced to move one’s piece when doing absolute­ly noth­ing would save your game. Throughout his­to­ry, we encoun­tered a lot of times where our inter­ven­tion­ism did more dam­age than good but still we learn noth­ing on our human scale. If you look into health, you’ll dis­cov­er the iatro­genic effects, which occurs when your health is wors­ened by the med­ical care you’re receiv­ing (One of the worst exam­ple? Decades ago lobot­o­my was con­sid­ered as a great health practice.).

Ego isn’t the only cul­prit in this, depend­ing on one’s posi­tion, the root cause could be also our own fear. Fear that peo­ple will think we’re not work­ing, fear that not giv­ing an advice will feel like giv­ing up on some­one or some­thing, … Which is why, even when we’ll choose not to act, it is impor­tant to take the time to explain our­selves. Because even the act of non-doing requires some thoughts and think­ing, and by being pre­pared to explain our non-actions, we’ll avoid use­less fears and judgments.

Our ten­den­cy to inter­vene in every­thing, all the time, in a way that suits our egos more than the greater good ends up cost­ing a lot in our lives, jobs, friend­ships, … and we are all guilty of it, even if we tend to per­suade our­selves that the changes we’re mak­ing ends up, at best, chang­ing noth­ing. Sometimes we need to take some steps back before mak­ing a deci­sion and ask our­selves a sim­ple ques­tion : Am I real­ly doing this to improve some­thing or am I doing this so peo­ple won’t think that I’m not doing anything?

Ask your­self at every moment: Is this necessary?”
 — Marcus Aurelius (Meditations)

0 Kudos

Simon Vandereecken

Freelance UX Designer living in Brussels (Belgium), with a deep interest into philosophy, personal growth, self improvement, books, music, ... well in many things ! I use this website to write thoughts going through my head as well as ideas, observations and reading notes. Feel free to get in touch ;)