I was struck this afternoon by the possible consequences of my own inaction. We still have plenty of snow in Philadelphia. I was walking down a busy thoroughfare with snowed-in cars. A man was in one of the vehicles, trying to rock it out onto the street (reverse to drive, back and forth). As I approached, he got out of the car, went to the back and was about to start digging, when I saw something, hesitated, then stopped him. The car’s front right wheel (opposite the driver side where he had been) was turning backwards. It could have been one of those completely inane things you notice and discard, but this meant something: his car was still in reverse.
As I walked away, it struck me what that action might have prevented. Imagine how easily any of us, focused on our destination (the party, the girl, the guy, the game), could have gotten behind that car and begun digging, only to be blind-sided when the car suddenly backed towards us, or over us, or across the street and into the Brazilian restaurant. I thought how easily I could’ve done that. Been behind that car. Then, I actually felt sick when I thought of how many times I might’ve walked by someone else in a similar situation and not registered it. Or, on a lesser level, how many times had I seen someone who could use a hand, maybe to steady them as they walked on ice, and I hadn’t offered because I was too shy… What sort of consequences could those inactions have had that I hadn’t known? What’s the value in risking those consequences with the cost of action being so much less?