“One moment can change a day. One day can change a life and one life can change the world.” – Buddha
The other day I took my kids to an outdoor shopping center. They’d been excited for three days because I said we could go there to visit the one store that makes honest to goodness cotton candy. Not the stuff you can buy prepackaged on shelves in the grocery store but a machine that spins a cone of it. I don’t like cotton candy but my daughter wanted to try it so I agreed she could if we got the real stuff.
On the way to the cotton candy machine, my kids were playing in a fountain and my daughter put her face down to lick the water. “Arghh” I said, “Don’t drink the water. It isn’t treated and probably has dirt, bird poop and maybe worse. It could make you sick.” She stopped but two minutes later she made the same motion and I had to stop her again. “Listen” I said “I know as a kid you are programmed to test the limits, but this is one where you need to believe me. Even if you don’t drink it, your little brother is going to see you, imitate you and he might actually drink it. So you are just going to have to trust me and not drink it.”
I could see the wheels of her 6-year-old brain working. She was thinking something like
“I’ve never tried it so I’ve never gotten sick. How can I know what Mom is saying is right?”
There’s no way to prove a negative. If we don’t do something and it the consequence is avoided, how do we know what didn’t happen to us? I heard an interview once with Matthew Weiner, the creator of the TV series Mad Men, and he said the show’s driving philosophy was actions have consequences. But what about inaction?
What if we don’t do the work to deal with our internal BS so we can see others more clearly?
What if we don’t write the letter to a sick friend?
What if we don’t go out of our way to compliment or help someone?
What if we don’t put the grocery cart back in the return slot at the store?
What if we just aimed for a grade C life? Not great, not bad, just average. Would anything happen to us?
Perhaps the consequence for inaction is nothing. Nothing exciting happens, nothing revelatory occurs, no random goodness pops up, nobody remembers us. Nothing. We aren’t a hero – just a zero.
On the other hand, we’ve done acts of kindness and felt the afterglow, we’ve made the effort to reach out to friends and experienced the relationships that carry us through tough times, and we’ve done the work to clean our internal windows because we see how more light gets in. In addition to these rewards, we’ve heard the thinkers throughout human history telling us to do our work:
“Good actions give strength to ourselves and inspire good actions in others.” – Plato
“Go into the world and do well. But more importantly, go into the world and do well.” – Minor Myers, Jr.
“When we do the best we can, we never know what miracle is wrought in our life, or the life of another.” – Helen Keller
We all have our different ways of doing our best and our personal limits. But part of the we likely do it is because our mom, dad or someone else with authority told us and we believed them. Like with my daughter, there’s no way to prove the negative – what would happen if we did nothing, so we take the advice and continue to try. Thank goodness for that.