The power of “not doing”

It was a nice afternoon in Hong Kong. We were looking at the beautiful Victoria Harbour. It was spectaaaaaacular.

And I was with a man, a wise man, though I forgot who he was. As our topic transitioned from the scenic view of Hong Kong to land use, politics, particularly government and business (mostly property developers) “collaboration”, also came up.

What he said I still remember vividly today.

“You know, property developers, or any established business, do not need to bribe any government into doing anything. That’s too obvious. The real problem is, simply for the government to not doing anything is already heavily biased to many stakeholders in the society”. 

Wow. The power of “not doing”.

Until that point, I always thought of action as something about doing. But in fact, the biggest action amongst us is actually about “not doing”. Inaction is an action. Not making a decision is a decision in itself. Most of all, “not doing” is an “action” because it affects things.

Let’s take a couple of examples from Hong Kong.

Most of us say we don’t have enough ‘small shops’, everything is run by large corporates as chain stores. Well, we can all have our different opinions and in fact they don’t always have to be mutually exclusive (I love small shops and I also love Maxims, some of them anyway). But if we are not doing anything (different), that is not actively eating at smaller shops, our mere status quo is in fact actively promoting the large chain businesses. Some say people vote with their feet. I’d say people vote with their purse.

How about voting? Perhaps heavily influenced by our colonial nature, Hong Kong people love to claim that they are politically neutral (to be honest, it’s more about not having an interest or understanding). But in fact, by being politically neutral and not casting a vote, we are by definition actively promoting the status quo, the existing establishment and regime.

I love Hong Kong. And this is not a political speech. Looking at any complex matters with just two options are inherently stupid, very stupid. This is also not about complaining about our government (surely they can do better but that’s beside the point here). This is about Hong Kong, collectively, all of us, have been “not doing”.

In the 70s, we were known for our TV shows, in the 80s and 90s, our music. We had great brands like cafe de coral which started in the early 80s. We had 許留山 in the 90s. We even had the octopus card which all my Asian friends told me how envy they were. The list goes on and on and on.

But all of a sudden, perhaps coincide with 1997, everything stopped.

Let’s not blame anyone, if someone has to be blamed, it should be us, Hong Kong people collectively.

We have not done anything. We forgot we were good, really damn good. We got stuck into our little well, perhaps too comfortably. We don’t have new brands, we don’t have innovations, most of all, we don’t have ambitions, we don’t have dreams. The only thing we enjoy seems to be being held hostage by our mortgage and the paper wealth associated with it.

All because of “not doing”.

So act. Do something. And remember, the most powerful action is actually “not doing”.

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