“Sometimes the greatest act of love is no action at all. It’s her life. It’s her choice.”
– Malcolm Merlyn, Arrow
Season 4, Episode 13, “Unchained”
It is the height of irony that such insight regarding love and family is coming from a man who has generally been an epic failure in that regard.
In this episode, the subject of conversation, Thea Queen, lies on the point of death. There is a way, a very simple and easily-justified way, to save her life. But it involves doing something she finds unconscionable, even monstrous.
Her father, Merlyn, has made countless mistakes, done a number of very evil things, in the name of his family. To him, it would be nothing to do one more bad thing to save his daughter. However, this one time, he realizes that it’s not up to him. Whatever extremes he’s willing to go to, he’s just trying to avoid feeling the pain of losing her. That isn’t love. That’s selfishness.
So he respects his daughter’s choice, and does nothing. He even convinces her brother, Oliver, not to make a similarly terrible mistake, and for the same reasons. If they truly love Thea, then they must leave it to her to decide, quite literally, what to do with her life. How to live. And how to die.
This is a rather extreme example, but the principle applies to more everyday situations too.
When we see someone we love in any sort of trouble, our first impulse is to charge in and protect them and take care of everything. That is a good, noble thing, part of what makes humans human, but that’s not always the best idea. Perhaps our interference would just make the situation worse, for instance. Perhaps we’d be trying to force them not to make a mistake, or what we think is a mistake, and we are not always right about that. Perhaps they need to see where the path they choose leads in order to learn the truth for themselves. Perhaps they need to get hurt so they can learn to be careful. Or perhaps they know full well what they’re getting into, and are deliberately taking on a burden for the sake of others.
In every case, it’s true, we can help them, when they need, when they ask, and when that help would be healthy for them. But we cannot decide for them.
We cannot control them, or the world, just because of what we feel.
Sometimes love means doing everything, and sometimes it means doing nothing.
Which one is more difficult, do you suppose?
I remember how my best friend once saw me making what he thought was an ill-advised decision. Without going into details, I will say that he loved me enough to advise me, to warn me, but he also loved me enough to let me choose for myself, and then, much later, he loved me enough to support and comfort me instead of saying, “I told you so.” 🙂