Taking Action in a Different Way

We see it all the time in movies and on TV, read about it in books and in news reports, and hear it in radio dramas and podcasts: people (real and fictional) who take action because it’s the right thing to do. It’s fair to say that idea of “taking charge,” of “fighting the good fight” for truth, justice and equality, is one of the most celebrated things in any culture, anywhere – and has been since time immemorial.

But what about when we don’t act, when we don’t directly take a stand? Can that sometimes be the right thing to do, too?

Such a dilemma faced me recently. A close friend and I were having dinner in Beirut, Lebanon, when in strode a woman with her kid, another woman, and a nanny who appeared to be of African descent. The group sat down, and the nanny was made to sit at a separate table by herself. She was completely ignored, as if she weren’t human or not even there; she wasn’t even offered so much as something to drink on what was a fairly warm evening. Her facial expressions and body language clearly communicated she was uncomfortable and in distress.

My friend and I discussed what we should do. To us, it looked like this woman was being treated like a slave. A slave. In 2018. We were mortified – and angry.

I’ll be honest: my initial instinct was to walk up to the woman’s “employer” and tell her exactly what I thought of her and was she was doing to the poor woman, how “what goes around comes around” and that humans are not to be treated like property, ever.

But before acting, my friend brought up a very good point: if we got up and did something right then and there, there was a good chance the woman might be harmed – possibly physically – later as retribution. We couldn’t have that on our consciences, and end up doing more harm than good.

Her advice was apt. Here’s the thing: sometimes not being directly confrontational – or at least acting in a different way – is exactly the thing to do.

There are plenty of other real-life examples. Gandhi and promoting nonviolent resistance to British rule in India – rather than a war for independence – comes to mind. After all, his devotion to nonviolence likely saved thousands of lives. So too do Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, Jr. and their commitment to nonviolent resistance against racism and inequality.

But the Bible provides perhaps the best example of all: the life of Jesus. When He announced He was the Messiah, many people were skeptical – they wanted a military Messiah who would lead an uprising and overthrow the oppressive rule of the Romans. But Jesus had other plans – He was still acting and doing the right thing, but it wasn’t the gung-ho, take up arms style a lot of people wanted. But guess what? Jesus still redeemed all of us of our sins when He was crucified – oh, and, eventually, Christianity became the official state religion of the Romans. If Jesus had led a direct, bloody uprising, things today would be very different indeed.

Like a game of chess – when an opponent moves an important piece in such a way that it would be easy for us to take it, but would then lose important pieces of our own on the next move – we sometimes need to think ahead. All actions have consequences – even if we can’t immediately see them.

Yet let it be said again: we should always try and do what is right.

Oh, and that situation my friend and I were witnessing in Beirut: we did end up trying to do something – just a bit more indirectly to minimise risk of harm to the woman being neglected.

It was simply the right thing to do.