Blog: A Time to Do Nothing

I recently relearned an old lesson. Sometimes it’s necessary, because occasionally we forget what we learned a long time ago.

Back in my late 20s and early 30s when I was mayor of a New Jersey town of around 35,000 inhabitants, I was faced with important matters that needed to be addressed almost on a daily basis. I would gather my kitchen cabinet and members of the borough council to discuss possible ways to deal with these problems, and invariably I would be presented with a host of solutions.

What struck me then was how doing nothing was almost never considered to be an option. We in the government were mostly young and had the confidence and yes, the arrogance, to think we could change everything. I quickly learned the hard way that, just sometimes, doing nothing makes the most sense.

This preamble brings me to something that happened in my backyard earlier this summer. I was sitting out there soaking in that great Malibu sunshine when I noticed a baby bird not more than 20 feet from me. It seemed deserted and helpless. Its feathers hadn’t matured yet, and the bird looked most vulnerable. The only movement came from the occasional opening of its mouth, which led me to believe it was either struggling to breathe or hoping to consume some food.

I hadn’t a clue how to help this poor little creature. Should I move it from the hot sun into the shade, or should I puree some worms and try to feed it? Its mother, wherever she was with her tiny bird brain, knew more about how to save its baby than I did with all my fancy degrees.

I was weighing the various ways to intervene when a voice from the distant past whispered to me, “Sometimes it’s better to do nothing.” And so nothing is what I did. I resigned myself to the possibility of watching a living creature die just a few feet from where I sat.

And then an adult bird, I presume the baby bird’s mother, appeared from nowhere. The adult bird chirped and, as if by some magic, the baby bird stood up on its legs, and at a very fast clip the two of them hopped across my lawn into the bushes. It turns out there was nothing wrong with the baby and, like me, all it was doing was sunbathing.

And so, I relearned the simple lesson that just sometimes doing nothing is exactly the right thing to do.

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