By: Matt Gordon
You hear it all the time—“I don’t care.”
The thing is, you do.
This just happened to me. A person asked me for a preference on a meeting location and I threw out three options as if they were all equal to me. I proved that parity by adding the obligatory, “I don’t care.”
Then what happened? What always happens and what proves I do care. The person chose the wrong option! Can you believe her!? The sheer, unabashed nerve of the woman. She had the audacity not to read my mind. I mean, how hard would it have been for her to hear me say “I don’t care” and politely infer the opposite? Kind of lazy, really. But it is what it is—I don’t care.
But I do care. Obviously, I do.
Want to pick where we grab lunch?
What time do you want to meet on Saturday?
Want to weigh in a work issue?
I care. I care. I care. Maybe not a lot—not in a shun you or hate you sort of way. But if I care enough to voice my displeasure to others, then I should care enough to state my preferences upfront.
What is it about saying “I don’t care” when we do?
Here are some possible answers:
- We think it humble.
By not having a strong preference, I am deferring authority to another—a true act of humility. But is it? Humility is all about thinking more of others, of elevating concern for them. It isn’t about not having opinions about things. Like there are restaurants I like and those I dislike. I am not more humble by pretending that I like all restaurants the same, especially if I harbor momentary resentment for allowing you to unknowingly pick one I hate. It isn’t humble. It is ludicrous. Sure, humility is knowing that I don’t always get my preferences—nor should I. But I don’t think lying about not having opinions is the path of the humble.
2. We are selfish.
What? How is it selfish to let someone else choose!? Well, because we are often really expecting the person to choose what we want. We expect them to so intimately know our preferences that they will deliver a choice in line with what we consider to be truth—that Wendy’s is a more than suitable locale for a delightful work lunch, for instance. I not only selfishly want to get my way, I selfishly expect others to know what my way is and pick it because I’m so very wonderfully me.
3. We are lazy communicators.
Often I say, “I don’t care” because I don’t want to explain the reasons why I do. But what happens is that I do care and can’t deny it, so that care only comes out later, in a negative form, when my cares go unheeded or unheard. (I choose to forget the fact that these things are unheard because they are unspoken. Again, because I am selfish.) The problem with being unwilling to give straight-forward opinions upfront is that we actually have more work to do on the back-end, as we complain and eye-roll and gossip over whatever decision has been made without our astute input.
And a quick note about gossip. Even good-natured gossip is no good. It is like drinking the least rotten of all the rotten milk. It produces division, even if it is funny or frivolous or momentary. And, like most vices, gossip is never content to stay the same size. My son is growing and wants more and more freedoms—he wants to eat by himself, wash himself, stay up later. He wants more and more choice, an ever-increasing independence. Vices are no different. They seem harmless enough when they are little and cute. But they will increase their freedom, push their boundaries, and become harder and harder to get a measure of control over.
4. We are bad at commitment.
This might be the most frequent impetus for the fake uncaring. By admitting care, I admit vulnerability. I can now be judged by what color I think the shirt should be or what restaurant appeases my delicate palette. In short, my cares make me known. Being known is a wonderful thing that most of us spend our whole lives trying desperately to control or to avoid altogether. Known people can hurt us more than unknown ones. Getting stabbed hurts, but only one thrust prompted the tragic, “Et tu, Brute?” So we protect ourselves in an armor that deflects judgement by holding in preference.
So what is the answer to this?
A start can be to decide to live an accepted life. When I know I am unconditionally accepted by something or someone, it frees me from the fear of being rejected by others—even from daily mini-rejections. For me, knowing that someone loves me completely—even the messed up broken bits—allows me not to have to always be sweeping the broken bits back to the back of me, where no one can see them. It means I can care about things, be wrong about things, and win sometimes and lose sometimes, without any of it affecting my deeper value.
Being accepted makes me free to care, but it can also liberate me to care less when I don’t get my way. Someone going against my choice or will isn’t some intrinsic wound with soul-level impact. It is just a decision now, as it should be. There aren’t identity markers and values stakes and virtue signaling embedded in every conversation, every choice. It lowers the impact of my preference, a good, comfortable kind of lowliness that keeps the priority of individual desires neatly in their accorded places.
You may not care about any of this. But I do. And when I’m at my most sensible and most human, I don’t mind you knowing it.