P A S S I V I T Y

Last week, I was biking home with my son after picking him from day care. The road was just then passing through a wooded patch. A handyman’s van was parked half on the curb, and beside it, the handyman himself, by the looks of it, was stooping over a girl that was sitting on the ground beside an overturned kick scooter. The girl was perhaps ten years old and had clearly been crying. There were a couple of kids farther up the road watching.

I stopped and asked the man if there was anything I could help with. He gave me an annoyed look and turned back to the girl. From what he said to her, I guessed that she had fallen off her scooter, and the man was instructing her to be more careful. I wondered if the van was the reason for her falling, and if the annoyed look the man gave me was perhaps concealing guilt. He then proposed to the girl to drive her home, but she refused by saying that she was alright and didn’t live far.

I asked again if there was something I can do, but got no answer. I felt like a meddlesome annoyance. I was not far from home, and time was nearing for my son’s snack. He gets quite cranky when he doesn’t eat on time. I decided to bike on, and as I was pulling back to my side of the street, another biker came along—a man I knew from before. He too stopped, asked a few questions, and then followed me on his bike.

We biked together slowly for a few meters and talked about what we thought had happened. The girl was already getting help, we concluded. And look, there was also this lady with the dog going that way. And there were the two kids watching. And we had checked out the plate number of the van.

I stopped. What good was it really that we knew the plate number? Would that prevent something bad happening to the girl? I told the man biking next to me that I’ll go back and make sure that the girl gets home alright.

I was also heartily ashamed of myself.

When I biked back, the van driver was still trying to convince the girl to accept a drive home, and the girl was still refusing, but I could see that she was beginning to sway. The two other kids, who apparently knew the girl, had come closer. The man again barely acknowledged me, and this now really sounded the alarm in my mind.

“I’ll make sure she gets home,” I said to the man, and the two other kids joined in immediately to supporting that idea as if they had been waiting for somebody to say something. Eventually, the man left in his van, and the girl did get home.

I didn’t know the man with the van. He might have genuinely wished to help. I will never know. But now, in retrospect, I am thoroughly amazed and still embarrassed by my initial reluctance to go out of my way and not let things just be.

Passivity is an easy way to live. But passivity is the road to so many evils: a broken marriage where partners close their eyes to problems and just let things fall apart; abominable politicians coming to power; or the realization of crime when unwillingness to act takes the better of us.

Initiative, on the other hand, is a powerful, world-changing tool that is within the grasp of each and every one of us. Many things in this world need fixing, but without initiative, nothing will ever change. Even small things like taking the initiative to exercise make a difference. Because if we take care of our bodies and souls, we would be more balanced, perhaps even more benevolent. Taking the initiative to take equal part in chores will make for a happier partner or roommate, and only good can come out of this.

A better world starts with the initiative to live as a better person.

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