Those of us who come from Western cultures that are less group-oriented tend to find the act of doing nothing hard to understand. I often hear Westerners criticize Turks for, as they put it, “doing nothing” about some things. It is even said Turks are in denial about some things and avoid conflict. Reader, what do you think about these statements? Criticism is dangerous when one does not really understand the circumstances or have all the details. Evidently, this sort of criticism is not anything new: Aristotle said that criticism is something we can avoid easily by saying nothing, doing nothing and being nothing. Perhaps in a situation like that, Aristotle’s “to do nothing” is correct.
I believe it’s true that some cultures are better at implementing the art of doing nothing. I have come to appreciate that there is a time and place for doing nothing. The trick is knowing when to do nothing.
Turks choose to do nothing for a reason. Many of us expats in similar situations would be more active and try to do something to get results. I must admit, one of the most difficult things for me when I first came to Turkey was learning to do nothing. My Turkish friends know the art of doing nothing and being content; it takes a particular instinct to know when to not do something.
Doing nothing can get quite complicated as the act of doing nothing can be simple or it can be more complicated and elaborate. I guess what I mean by this is that the whole goal is to pacify public opinion by appearing to be doing something. Frankly speaking, I think many of our American politicians and international governing bodies are guilty of this very thing -- doing nothing while appearing to do something. The United Nations often uses this strategy. The media usually cover the flurry of “activity” of doing nothing as politicians gather for passionate debate and to make statements and counter-statements.
Here are a couple of letters on a personal level from Today’s Zaman readers:
Dear Charlotte: I have been married for six years and I find it difficult that my husband is not more proactive. He strongly dislikes confrontation. He will wait to give things time to sort themselves out. He thinks by doing nothing it will all work out. I am frustrated when he does not take a stand and he does nothing... Can you give me any advice? From: Suzanne (İzmir).
Dear Suzanne: I understand what you are saying. It sounds like a balance needs to be found -- one that you are both comfortable with. You need to help your Turkish husband see that sometimes some action is needed. If you can, try to discuss some options. On the other hand, you probably need to come to the point to not feel like action is always needed. Learn in some situation to just not do anything. Pick your battles.
Dear Charlotte: I just discovered that my boyfriend cheated on me. I am furious. I thought he was working long hours and then I find this out! I am hurt and furious. He said he is sorry and wants to get married. I want to marry him but I don’t think I can trust him anymore. I guess I need the courage to act and break it off. Some of my expat friends are telling me to break it off but my Turkish friends respond differently. I’ve been told that many marriages here are like this. The woman does nothing as long as he provides for the family. I don’t know what to do. Help! From: Liz (Turkey)
Dear Liz: I wonder how many more signals you need. It sounds to me like he probably proposed under pressure. If you do nothing, you run the risk of never having peace of mind. You’ll never know if he is with another woman. If you are afraid of facing the truth, you’ll do nothing.
Maybe you have heard of the idiom: “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”
That’s right! You can’t win if you don’t join in the game; if you don’t participate in something, you will not achieve anything.
Having come from a very purpose-driven lifestyle, I am glad that I have had the chance to learn more of a balance of doing nothing -- in the right situation, that is. One example is taking time to enjoy life.
Note: Charlotte McPherson is the author of “Culture Smart: Turkey” 2005. Please keep your questions and observations coming: I want to ensure this column is a help to you, Today’s Zaman’s readers. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org