Doing Something vs. Doing Nothing

Pick your favorite platitude: You can only do so much. You’re not going to change the way everybody else behaves (or thinks). You’re only one person.

Comforting, aren’t they? You are hereby excused from culpability in the grand disaster that is human civilization. May your acquittal be an abiding relief from that weird sense of responsibility we all feel intermittently, mostly in the moments when we’ve been distracted from our distractions and have a moment to think about silly old concepts that are more fun to talk about than enact. Such as the one that posits each of us ought to leave the planet an infinitesimally better place than how we found it.

We all do what we can. The problem is most of us decide that what we can do is absolutely nothing.

We’re too busy, too important, too unimportant, too crushed by epistemological concerns, too crushed by just-getting-by concerns, too unaware, too self-involved, too uninvolved, too – we’re all too something. Which helps us explain to ourselves why we think doing nothing is somehow better than doing something.

We all do what we can. Fortunately, someone else thinks he’s capable of doing something slightly more than nothing, otherwise nothing would ever improve.

It’s true: No one person can clean up all the litter in Runyon Canyon Park. But Runyon Canyon Park will never be free of litter if not one person decides to do something about it. “Doing something” could mean bending down and picking up one of the hundreds of plastic water bottle caps along the hiking trails; it could mean bending down and picking up a piece of plastic wrapper instead of stepping over it; it could mean organizing all your girlfriends into a clean-up crew, or hipping friends to the myriad drawbacks of bottled water, or something else that seems worthwhile to you. Doing something just means doing something. Anything. Anything but pretending the litter doesn’t exist or that it’s someone else’s problem or that you’re one of the omnipresent toos and can’t be bothered.

Now substitute any of the world’s intractable problems in place of “litter in the Park” and you’ll understand why it takes a very long time for things to change for the better. We all do what we can, what we’re able, what we want. For most of us, what we want is to remain in state of permanent distraction, never startled from our waking slumber.

It’s a lot easier that way, ignorance being bliss and all. But if you want things to change – litter in the park, assault weapon massacres, dysfunctional cannabis laws, global warming, or whatever – you must be the change. You must live the change and embody the change.

Because you’re only able to do what you can.

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2 Responses

  1. Tam says:

    Hey, Obama quoted you last night!

  2. Ryan T says:

    I’m inspired to DO SOMETHING instead of nothing. Thank you, Mr. K.