Inaction or (risk of) wrong action?

When silence is an escape of responsibility

Joel V Zachariah
3 min readJan 7, 2022

I just finished listening to Joe Rogan’s recent (controversial) podcast with Dr. Malone regarding Vaccine hesitancy and how massive suppression of freedom of choice is silently killing voices of reason.

It touched on a question I’ve thought about from time to time — is it better to avoid making a statement, or risking to have an opinion? I remember this one time when my eczema flair was severe and my vigorous scratches resulted in wounds on my legs. I didn’t pay much attention to it but shortly I noticed it getting worse. Out of concern, I was advised to use Dettol to cleanse it from infections. And subsequently I’d use cotton/tissue to prevent bleeding if any.

But turns out, its a bad idea to use cotton (tiny fiber particles) over open wounds since it could further infect. Soon enough there were swellings all around and clearly the “cautious” action backfired. But then again, was inaction a better option? I am not quite sure.

So many times in life, I have come across situations where inaction has proven to be the safer option than a wrong action. If someone collapses in a public place and needs CPR, even if you’ve seen you would not have to courage to do it due to lack of experience and the fear of doing something wrong. But from the victims perspective, maybe she would hope for the opposite but be dismayed at the fear of those around?

Of course, when I ask this question to those around me, they bring out the 3rd option to consulting an expert (go to hospital) and have it well “acted” upon. But then assuming those chances are low, what should be incentivize — inaction or the risk of wrong action?

I hear of conspiracy theories how doctors in certain countries avoid carrying out critical operations and spend too much time “assessing” the situation — partly because there is pressure from the management to avoid the scenario where things go wrong and the hospital is under pressure for potential mismanagement in the operation room. I do not know the legitimacy of these claims but clearly it fits the sad reality of how inaction tends to triumph.

Naval has a famous quote —

If you can’t decide, the answer is no

This is brilliant because we subconsciously frame our questions in such a way that if the answer is “yes”, the state changes to a new one while the “no” option retains the same. Should you give a CPR to the victim? Takes you long to decide? The answer is no.

While I admire his clarity of thought to frame this, I am dismayed to see how most actions are reactive than proactive. We tend to not care about blood donation requests until our dear one reaches than plight and then we curse the system for being selfish. Or when you’re giving a zoom call presentation but have no feedback to work with the blank screens of your peers — while you know you’d do the same if the places were switched.

It is this systemic disconnect that incentivizes inaction that disappoints me. It may help to think — what’s the cost if I make a mistake hear? Sometimes we overblow the loss over the win. Should I go sing that song in front of the crowd? Best case, it becomes a memory to cherish. Worst? Cricket sounds cause I doubt you’d be infamous enough to have audience prepared with rotten tomatoes to fling — especially if you’re insecure about your skills.

Truth be told, chances are that I’ll be a hypocrite myself when I come across a situation where I choose inaction over the risk of wrong action. After all, how prepared can one be in a new situation? Unless you work as a crisis manager, odds are the surprise blows out the air within before you know it.

So what are the potential solutions

  • build a thicker skin? Put yourself through more experiences to know how to respond?
  • Surround yourself with experts of different situations and reconnect with them when in need?
  • Measure the risk of failure vs the gratitude of risking an action in a demanding situation?

Hope I find the answer in the years to come.