When you come to a crossroads, you are often faced with the decision to do something or wait it out. This can be simplified to a decision between action and inaction.
Talking heads will often say things like “action beats inaction every time,” but I would amend this to “action beats inaction most of the time.” Depending on the situation, either of these choices may be the right call.
What is never the right call, is unchecked inaction. Unchecked inaction is when you don’t necessarily make a decision to do nothing; it just happens. This is a dangerous place to be. You aren’t mindfully evaluating decisions. You aren’t taking action. You’re just along for the ride, whether you like it or not.
Types of Passive Modes
The first step to avoiding unchecked inaction is to recognize when it’s happening. There are two types of passive modes that lead to unchecked inaction: denial and acceptance.
While these two ideas sit on opposite sides of the spectrum, they both lead to the same undesirable result.
When you’re in denial, you are uncomfortable with the way things are. You don’t want to come to terms with the current situation. When you’re overly accepting, you are comfortable with the way things are. You are set in your ways and stop considering alternatives.
In both these of these states, you reject useful information to maintain your mental model of the world.
Both cases are equally dangerous for critical thinking and decision making. While they are polar opposites, it’s clear that there are more similarities here than meets the eye.
Avoiding Passive Modes
If you can avoid these passive modes, then you can avoid unchecked inaction. This is easier said than done. How can one avoid dismissing something as true (denial) while also avoiding the assumption that it’s true (acceptance)?
The answer is skepticism.
When you practice skepticism, you consistently challenge both your assumptions and the assumptions of others. You push back on both denial and acceptance. You fight back against unchecked inaction.
“Skepticism is about having a questioning attitude, a sense of “Tell me more so I can understand.” It’s a process of applying critical thinking to determine the validity of an idea, rather than latching on to a preconceived conclusion and hanging on tight.” — The Value of the Skeptic
Skepticism means reaching out for feedback to gut-check your decisions. It means asking challenging (or not so challenging questions) to provoke more thought from decision-makers. Some companies designate a “Devil’s advocate” when making key decisions for this reason exactly.
Opinions are useful, especially when they push back the opinions of others. There’s rarely a time when principled discussion leads to a worse decision. If you recognize that unchecked inaction is occurring, apply skepticism and start the conversation.
None of this is groundbreaking, but we need more skeptics in the world. We need more people that consistently challenge both their assumptions and the assumptions of others.
There will always be unchecked inaction and poor decision-making out there, but with more skepticism, with less denial and acceptance, maybe we can do something about that.
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