Don’t pick up the baby

I’ve been to India four times. India has been described as a “shock to the senses”—what you see, hear, smell, taste, and feel often seems otherworldly. 

It’s also difficult to grasp how populous the country is. One of my hosts tried to explain by saying: “There are more honor students (top 10% of the class) in India than there are students in America, simply because there are so many high school students in India.” 

On the first day of my first trip to India, my host warned me: “Don, while in New Delhi, you will probably be approached by a woman carrying a baby. She will try to engage with you, show you a beautiful infant, and then she will offer to let you hold the baby. Do not take the baby in your arms because the woman will walk away and the baby will be yours. Then you’ll have to find an orphanage to take it, or you’ll have to place the baby down on the sidewalk and walk away (children are sometimes abandoned on the streets by desperate mothers). Whatever you do, don’t pick up the baby.” 

I’ve thought of that story often. The moral of the anecdote is: think carefully before you get involved in, or become responsible for, something that is not your responsibility and something that may incumber you for a long time. It may be a kind and generous act that you’re contemplating, but think carefully before committing. 

Sometimes you may be called upon to “pick up the baby” because it is your baby—for instance, accepting responsibility for a family member. But sometimes the “baby” may be a friend, employee, or neighbor, in which case you do have a choice whether or not to get involved. If you do pick it up, know when and how to put it down.


  1. Think carefully before taking a position with an organization that is spiraling downward. You may be “picking up” something you’ll later wish you hadn’t.
  2. When selecting team members, go slow and be sure; it’s easy to hire but hard to fire. When selecting team members don’t be naive or unduly empathetic toward questionable candidates. Don’t pick up the baby.


  1. Be wise and vigilant before committing to primary relationships (spouse, having children) because they’re hard to disengage from.
  2. If you have “picked up a baby” consider if and how you can “put it down.”

This is a difficult topic.

[reminder]What are your thoughts about this essay?[/reminder]

10 Replies to “Don’t pick up the baby”

  1. Hard truth.

    But we should remember that sometimes we can find ways to help the baby without picking it up.

  2. Wow! There is much truth in this article. Many times our hearts are in the right place, but it leaves us very vulnerable to risky situations. I believe the Lord wants us to be compassionate, but also responsible. It is better to empower others instead of continually giving. If you agree to support someone, realize that it could be long term. It is better to teach someone to fish, instead of giving them a fish everyday.

    In the professional work place, I have personally found it is important to focus on skill sets necessary for the job, conflict resolution, integrity, etc., and not primarily on my feelings. Also reference vouchering is very important. It is much easier to not hire a potential employee, than fire one that doesn’t work out. In the meantime, the “cancer” can devastate an organization.

    1. Marcy, Thanks for writing. You bring up some good ideas. I particularly appreciate “it is better to empower others instead of continually giving.” Don

  3. Don, this is super practical either personally or professionally. I “picked up someone else’s baby “at work earlier this year because of a past connection and found out the expectation had totally changed too late. It was many, many hours of work before I could hand it back. Hours taken away from my primary responsibilities.

    1. Bob, thanks for sharing your thoughts. Good example of the principle. Sometimes we unwittingly take on responsibilities we later regret doing. Take care, Don

  4. Thank you for this timely message, Don. I am in a career transition right now and money is tight. I struggle with getting a bridge job because I know staying focused on the right role should be most important.

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