Is Say Nothing, Do Nothing the Right Choice?

say nothing, do nothing

Miss Meredith Sweetpea often runs across situations where there is an obvious problem or slight, yet nobody says anything. For example, I was standing in line at a sandwich shop when a gentleman walks in and approaches the counter to order his lunch. The woman in front of me did not step up to say she was next in line. The person behind the counter did nothing either. But I said, “Excuse me, but there is a line, and this lady is next.” The gentleman looked back and then realized there was a line and graciously took his place behind me, apologizing for his mistake.His error was an innocent one because the line in this particular sandwich shop was held about 4 feet back from the counter at a “Wait Here” sign.

But this particular situation got me to wondering is “say nothing, do nothing” the right choice?

There are several ways to look at situations to decide whether to speak up or not.

Is it life or death?

If there is a circumstance where someone could be injured or killed, it is always best to step up and say or do something. I once caught a toddler as he tumbled off the end of a dock into the murky waters of a marina. I stepped in when I saw the child careening towards the edge. But nobody else did or said anything even though they all saw the situation as clearly as I did. I jumped up and grabbed the boy by the back of his shirt just as he hit the water. If I hadn’t, would the boy have been sucked under the boats and drowned? I shudder to think of it.

What if your friend had too much to drink and was getting ready to drive home. Would you stop him, take away the keys and drive him home…or do or say nothing?

Do you need to stand up for your own rights?

As in the example with the sandwich shop, I had patiently followed the rules and waited in line. Whereas most people would write off the interloper and grumble about it silently, I stood up for my rights in that situation by politely, but firmly, stating that there was a line. Was I subject to embarrassment or humiliation? Possibly. But I chose to take the chance to speak up for myself. 99.9% of the time, it turns out for the best. By the way, the woman in front of me turned to thank me. She was in a hurry to pick up her kids and was already running late. I wondered why she didn’t speak up.

Can you improve someone else’s life?

If I see a situation where I can help, I step in to do something. Recently a woman was navigating an overloaded cart at BJ’s (and you know how big those carts are) while trying to push her elderly mother in a wheelchair. Dozens of people watched as she struggled to push the chair and lug the cart across the store and out into the parking lot. Once in the parking lot, the ground slanted downward and I could see a disaster in the making, not only for the two women, but for the cars parked there.

I left my own cart and approached the younger woman and asked if I could push her cart to her car while she took care of her mother. Her reaction was precious. She was close to tears as she gratefully said, “Yes, please,” and “Really?” I replied, “Yes. Let’s go,” and started pushing the cart. I took her all the way to her car and waited with the cart while she helped her mother into the car.

These are small examples, but there are a number of times where bigger situations have come into consideration on whether to do something or say something. I have only regretted my decision to speak up or do a handful of times compared to the multitude of times where it worked out for the better.

When is the Wrong Time to Say Something or Do Something?

Not all interactions can be pleasant, and there are some situations where it is best to not say something or do something. In these cases it is best to either avoid the situation or alert the authorities.

  • The person is inebriated, high on drugs, or emotionally unstable
  • The person is doing something illegal
  • There is obviously a conflict already in progress

I recently had an encounter at a bookstore where I was innocently looking through a stack of cookbooks when a gentleman walked up beside me made a slurring comment to me about “a woman’s place being in the kitchen.” I won’t repeat the comment here. The way he said it was offensive to me, so I replied kindly that men could also cook. He went ballistic and began accusing me of being a feminist. He raised his voice and used a few unsavory terms. I quickly realized that my only way out of this potentially dangerous situation was to leave quickly. Engaging in conversation with him would have been futile. As I walked away, he continued to yell curses at me, even to the point where I left the store. He shouted things like, “That’s right, just walk away when I’m trying to have a conversation with you.” I would have loved a store employee to have stepped up to help escort this man from the shop. But they did nothing, even though they could clearly see and hear what was going on. Many others in the shop also saw and heard.

Some people may say, “Mind your own business.” Others may simply stick their heads in the sand and not acknowledge a situation. Are we all too self-centered to see others around us? Wouldn’t you like someone to help you if you had a need? Look for situations where you can help, and step in where needed.

I feel that we are all living in a village together and should help each other in ways we can. Rather than grumble about a situation later, I take action, without expecting anything in return. My action is its own reward for me. It’s my way of making the world just a little bit better.

What are your thoughts about “say nothing, do nothing?”



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