The Value of NOT Doing Things

For decades all the self-help books and all the commencement addresses and all the motivational speakers told us to just go for it because we’re worth it. And so we do. We have internalized our own specialness and thus are looking for ways to show it to the world. And sociopaths do it better than the rest of us. You see, when we’re not doing anything, we’re nobodies. If you do nothing there’s no hope, no updates to post on Facebook, no one liners for Twitter, no cool pictures for the Instagram. No stories to tell. Without stories you do not exist.

Thus the concept of NOT doing things is anathema for many, especially when they have access to tools that enable them to do those things. Moreover, let’s not beat around the bush here, we are actively looking for such access. Once we get access, the idea of restraint then becomes obsolete. We didn’t spent all that time and effort on acquiring access to just sit around and do nothing with it. For similar reasons a poker player can’t lay down pocket aces when he’s obviously beat. It took him such a long time to get it. Power lays in doing things, not in restraint.

“Why do you need to wreck this company?” Bud Fox asks Gordon Gekko. “Because it’s wreckable!” he answers, frustrated with such a stupid question. SAC hedge fund manager Steve Cohen displayed a similar mindset when he famously wondered: “What else is there to do?” And that’s it in a nutshell: you’re either doing something or you are a bum. When the music is right and you got your dancing shoes on, well, you go dancing.

Of course, the men of action don’t view themselves as bad guys. Wall Street banker selling high-yielding crap will tell you that he was providing services to his clients who were supposed to know about the product and that he didn’t break any laws; besides he’s on board of several charities, so will you please leave him alone already.

George Zimmerman will tell you that he was standing his ground against a thug and acted within the Florida law.

The Russian rebels will tell you that that all they want is peace, to go home and to cook borsch. That they ended up shooting down a civilian airplane is something that is beyond their control, besides we’re in a war, so shit happens. It’s a plane’s pilot fault that he chose to fly this route, anyway.

I’m trying to think what was going through the mind of a Russian rebel who pulled the BUK trigger that brought down the Malaysian Airlines MH17. Oh, surely, he wasn’t thinking “Let’s shoot down a civilian plane”. No. He was more likely thinking, with a trademark Russian abandon: “This device is some cool shit! There’s war going on so we can pretty much do whatever we want. Eh, fuck it. Let’s shoot and see what happens.” Obviously, it sounds more colorful in Russian. That the war is of his own making and that “what happens” can take an unexpected and grim turn is not part of his consideration.

None of them will stop and think about the true reason for their actions. But I sense a lot of similar thinking. They were looking, actively seeking for the opportunity to demonstrate their potency to the world. For them, such a demonstration is a subconscious message to the rest of us: Behold! I’m here, I exist, look at my footprint. It’s a dark, deadly version of “Look, ma. No hands!”

And yet, all of them had a choice of NOT doing things. What would take that Russian rebel to NOT press a button on a missile? What would take a banker to refuse to sell crap to unsuspecting clients? What would take a George Zimmerman to go about his business? It appears that not doing things requires the possession of qualities that are out of fashion, like humanity, consideration for others, emotional maturity, conscience and restraint. Even putting down those words makes one sound like a loser – it’s embarrassing to have “consideration for others” in your vocabulary these days. It makes you sound like some kind of social worker or a weak-minded hippie. A person with no power in other words. Instead, great value is attached to self-promotion, self-aggrandizement, search for heroism (however dubious), and winning at all costs. It’s all about you, about your personal brand. You do therefore you exist. Do what exactly? Who cares if it puts your name into history books.

We were conditioned to “act”, to be “pro-active”, to crush the competition. Thus very few of us are capable to stand next to the “button” and do nothing. We just don’t have that kind of mental fortitude, we have never developed those qualities and were never encouraged to possess them. One has to be able to NOT take the ring. And if he possesses the ring he has to be able to lay it down. And it is very hard to do. I know this.

The calls for restraint carry a measure of anti-progressive flavor. I realize that. Perhaps that makes me into a small ‘c’ conservative. So what? I have a problem with such progress. I have a problem with those who seek destruction for the sake of destruction. A revolutionary and an asshole usually go hand in hand. If progress means self-determination of assholes, fuck such progress.

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