Act vs. Wait

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We’ve seen a lot of injustice since the dawn of time, haven’t we? The rich get richer while the poor starve to death. Terrorism takes on different forms almost every day. Even the most well-meaning government officials are corrupted by power. No matter where we are in the world, injustice is a sad reality that we have to come to grips with.

For a lot of people, this has brought up a nagging question that has no clear answer: When trouble rises, do we act to try to fix the problem, or do we wait for someone else to try?

At first glance, it seems like taking action is the right direction to go. As we’ve seen in the last few months alone, actions such as protests and lawsuits have prevented the Muslim ban from going into effect twice. Even something as simple as paying for a meal or donating to a good cause goes a long way in demonstrating love and kindness for our fellow man or woman. That being said, there are at least two cons that come with taking action.

First, there’s pride. When we do something good, we like to brag about it. In a church I used to attend, members are given the opportunity to stand up and share how God has led them to be a temporary hero for the poor (and yes, I did roll my eyes when I wrote that). Sometimes, this kind of arrogance can lead us to berate or belittle others for not doing what we’re doing. The “I’m perfect, why aren’t you perfect?” argument, if you will.

The second con from taking action is lack of proper guidance. To illustrate my point, let’s look at police brutality and the growing lack of trust between law enforcement and citizens. A while back, some officers tried to rebuild trust by handing out free ice cream to random passersby on the street. Even if they had the best intentions, the gesture didn’t do anything to shake the fear of being approached by an officer. If you don’t have the knowledge or the humility to find the root of the problem, you won’t be able to fix it.

On the other hand, there’s also the option to stand back and wait for someone else to fix the problem. It’s a solution that Christians like to point to a lot, saying “just pray and wait on God to fix everything.” And just like action, waiting can have its advantages. If you don’t have the necessary knowledge, waiting can allow you to take a step back and learn more. Or if you’re not qualified to help, it might be necessary to make way for someone who is. But even waiting has its disadvantages too—namely, paving the way for potential apathy and/or laziness. Poverty has been around for so long that it’s too easy to say “it’ll never get better, so why bother caring?” Waiting also makes it too easy to say “I’m sure someone else will deal with it better than I can, so better not try.” Or as psychologists call it, the Bystander Effect.

With all of this said, it might be easy to just say “oh, we’ll just need a little bit of both. If we need to wait, we wait. If we can act, we act.” The thing is, that line has never been drawn—at least, not clearly. Take medicine. Would the world be a healthier place if everyone knew about the human body? Maybe. Since not everyone specializes in science, we’re not really hard on someone who decides to pursue a different path. But we could still learn if we wanted to. So does the lack of action make us lazy? Or would taking action despite lack of passion for the subject matter only make everything worse?

The sad thing is, figuring out what’s right for certain conflicts has never been easy and it never will be. We live in a complicated world, and as a result the solutions won’t always be black and white. Does this mean we shouldn’t try to find solutions at all? Hell, no! That’s not why we’re here. I guess all I’m trying to say is:

  1. Do the best you can and encourage others to do the best they can
  2. Don’t belittle people for either taking action with a hothead or not doing anything.

We’re trying to figure things out and we’re trying to get better at making the right choices. And if we want to steer people towards the right choices, we need to acknowledge our own mistakes and humanity as well.

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