What To Do When You're Not Sure What To Do

Everytime I saw him, I wasn't sure what to do.

I saw him almost everyday for the whole semester I was studying in London.

On my walk from the Tube stop back to my apartment, there he was.  He would always sit in front of the same bank.  He usually would be sitting on a piece of cardboard.  Sometimes he'd just be sitting.  Sometimes he'd be asking for money.

Whenever I walked by I would notice him.  But when I noticed him I didn't know what to do.  I had a hard time even making eye contact with him.  It's not that I didn't want to look at him.  It's just that I didn't know how to look at him.  I didn't know if my looking at him would annoy him.  I wasn't sure if he wanted to be pitied.  There was part of me that wanted to look at him so that my eye contact would say, "Hello fellow human being.  I notice your existence."  But another part of me hesitated to look his way because I didn't want my eye contact to say, "Wow.  You are a pitiful sight.  You are a spectacle to be stared at."

Everyday I saw him.  I noticed him.  But I just didn't know what to do.

I froze up.  I didn't do anything.  I just kept walking.

Thankfully, I had a classmate (Michael Diercks) that didn't "freeze up" and "do nothing."

Michael walked the same route I did everyday.  Except when he saw the homeless man...he would just sit down next to him and talk.  They became good friends.  They enjoyed each other.

Michael's example taught me a good principle: "When you're not sure what to do...don't do nothing."

But I'm not always good at following that principle.

The other year one of my co-workers lost her husband.

My colleague and I weren't close.  All we ever said to each other was "Hello" in the mornings and "Good night" in the evenings.  But when her husband died I wanted to say something.  I wanted to do something.  But I didn't know what to do.  I was afraid that approaching her to say, "I'm sorry that your husband died," would sound to insensitive.  But I was afraid of offending her if I didn't say anything at all.  I wanted to help her with practical things, maybe even help with jobs that needed to be done around her house.  But I was afraid that offering to do housework or chores would come across as too weird and unwanted.  I thought, "she probably has extended family members that do all of that for her."

One day I sat down to write her a note of condolence.  I never even delivered it because I was afraid that the sentiments that I expressed would be untimely, or offensive, or thoughtless, or bring up emotional pain that she wouldn't want to feel.

I didn't know what to do.  I froze up.  I didn't do anything.

As a man, if I could always live by the following principle a lot would be better in the world around me:

When something/someone is messy, or broken, or awkward, or hurting...instead of doing nothing...I should (like Michael) sit down and just talk.

I saw a homeless man and froze up.  Michael saw him and sat down to talk.

I saw a colleague who was grieving.  I should've just sat down and talked to her.

Men, if you're like me, it's easy to freeze up and do nothing when you aren't sure what to do.  

  • Maybe your kids are misbehaving and you're not sure what to do.  So you don't do anything at all.  You hope your wife will take care of it.  ...or you blame her for not taking care of it.  ...or you hope that one day your kids will grow out of it.  But you yourself don't take initiative to address the issue.
  • Maybe you see some unethical behavior in the workplace.  You feel like you should say something.  But for a long list of reasons...you don't.
  • Maybe someone in your church is going through something tough.  You feel like you should give them a call to see how they are doing and to offer help.  But you think, "We just don't have that kind of relationship."  Or, "Isn't it weird for guys to call other guys?  Guys just don't do that, right?"  So you do nothing.
  • Maybe your wife seems unhappy about something in your marriage.  But you don't mention anything, hoping that the issue will go away.

In situations like these, I need someone to encourage me to "man up."  In situations like these we all need to "man up" by just sitting down.  Rather than ignoring or being afraid, we need to sit down and talk.

Check out this quote from a guy named Edmund Burke:

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."

May this post encourage you to resist your tendency to do nothing.  Facing a tough situation, without knowing what to do...just tell yourself to sit down and talk with the person.  My guess is that if you do, something good will happen.