Consequences of Inaction

Inaction is an action. Not making a decision makes a decision.

It’s easy to forget that not doing something is as much of a choice and can have as many consequences as doing something. This has been a theme that I’ve seen in four different friends’ lives this week. And then it happened in my own family.

My son turned off the kitchen timer without asking what needed to be done or even looking in the oven. Yes, he did turn off the timer when it buzzed, but by not going a step further, the potatoes in the oven would have burned and could have started a fire if I had also forgotten about them. His inaction had consequences. Fortunately, for once in my life, I was focused and followed through on my own action of starting the oven and interrupting the consequences of his inaction.

Confused yet? I don’t mean cause confusion. Yet, it seems we sometimes forget there can be just as many consequences for not making a decision and following through with it as there are for making a decision and following through with it.

Have you ever suffered the consequences because you didn’t do something? 

Usually, these types of lessons are learned in school or early adulthood. Forget to do your homework? Fail. Make an excuse about your dog eating your homework? Fail. Forget to pay a bill? Oops. Late fee. Books late to the library? Late fee. Fail to pay your car insurance? Now you are uninsured. 

If you’ve ever had full responsibility for a vehicle or home, or even driven on the roads, you’re likely uncomfortably aware of the second law of thermodynamics. Otherwise known as the Law of Increased Entropy, it means that the quality of matter or energy deteriorates over time. describes it this way, “Usable energy is inevitably used for productivity, growth and repair. In the process, usable energy is converted into unusable energy … As usable energy is irretrievably lost, disorganization, randomness, and chaos increase.” Entropy is the fancy word for unusable energy.

“As usable energy is irretrievably lost, disorganization, randomness, and chaos increase.”

What that means is that even houses in warm climates without an abundance of precipitation eventually need new roofs. Cars require routine maintenance, aka repair such as oil changes, tire rotations, and air filter replacements, or they will eventually break down. Roads constantly need repair, creating a constant source of employment as well as irritation to drivers. The Law of Increased Entropy pushes into Chaos Theory as a small pothole gradually becomes large enough to kill your car’s alignment or an accident, which would cause even more chaos.

My chiropractor was even brave or crazy enough to mention the Law of Increased Entropy is working on my body, by no wrong-doing on my part. (Grrr.)

But I digress.

I simply want to call attention to the many decisions that we don’t make, thus making a decision.

Did you notice peeling paint on that handrail you used earlier? The Law of Entropy says that without another coat of paint, rust will set in, eventually weakening the metal. What about the tree with dead branches over the roof of your house? If nothing is done, it will eventually come down. Have you taken a look at your life lately, and made decisions about how things are going and examined what is not working and why? Maybe the Law of Entropy means your routines are falling apart and interrupting the stability you had created.

Let’s do a thought experiment. Let’s think through the consequences of the dead branches. When the dead branches fall, at the very least, they will damage the shingles on your roof. You’ll call the insurance adjuster, a tree service to haul away the limbs (unless you can get on your roof with a chainsaw to cut them off yourself) and a roofing company. In addition to the deductible on your insurance, you’ll lose the time to make those phone calls as well as the time to be available while the work is done. If you do the work yourself and aren’t in good shape, you risk muscle soreness at the least and possibly an injury leading to more down time or worse. All for not calling the tree company to cut down the branches as soon as you noticed them. But isn’t it expensive? Perhaps. It depends on the tree and your location. A company cutting just the branches of a single doesn’t have to trim all the trees on your property, which reduces your cost. What is the true cost, especially in time, if you do nothing? Playing the waiting game is making a choice to do nothing.

Count the cost

When making decisions, it’s important to consider both the cost and benefit of the action involved. Businesses call this a cost-benefit analysis. High school counselors call it a pro vs con list. Either way, if you don’t know all the consequences, good and bad, of an action, you can’t make a good decision. 

My son did not consider the cost of turning off the oven. Someone not trimming dead tree branches above his or her house probably hasn’t considered the consequences of not trimming them. 

Someone else rolling through a stop sign, probably didn’t consider the consequences thoroughly, or maybe he or she did, and was willing to run the risk of a ticket or accident.

An area of my life I’ve not made decisions for this summer, or allowed my lack of action rule my consequences, is in my family’s daily routines. We’ve done a lot of traveling, at least one week of every month since April. As a result, other than occasionally reminding my kids to do their schoolwork and occasionally following up with them (we homeschool so there’s leeway here), I’ve not forced them into many structured routines. All our routines revolve around activities outside our family, such as regular dinners and activities with friends and classes. Other than trying, and often failing, to have dinner on the table by 6:30 p.m., I’ve allowed the inmates to rule the asylum, as my husband often says. I’ve barely limited their electronics, or mine. While I’ve created a morning routine for myself that includes getting up by 6:30 and going to the gym, I’ve done nothing for my kids. As a result, their overstimulated by electronics, bored, and cranky. My inaction on something as simple as creating an enriching routine and family environment has resulted in some ugly behaviors, and that includes my own. 

So while we hope that we and our children learn how to make decisions and manage consequences before adulthood, the reality is that all of us fail to make decisions and fail to take action at least occasionally. It’s important to remember that failing to take action also has consequences and to remember to consider those consequences.

We need not be pushed and pulled by the whims of the world. We can look at our routines, schedules, requirements, needs, wants, and make decisions that allow us some control of the consequences. 

We don’t have to control everything and we can’t control everything. That is a separate post. However, we can decide what we need to do to receive the consequences, the outcome, we desire.

Where do you need to take action in your life?

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