“Who do you want to win the election?”
“Are you excited about tonight’s game?
“What do you want to do tonight?”
“I don’t care.”
A Case For & Against Apathy
In his best-selling book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck, Mark Manson lays out a perfect argument for what instances we should and shouldn’t be apathetic. His argument is that we only have so many f*cks to give so we must be wary as to when and where to give them.
To some degree, in order to accomplish anything, we must practice selective apathy. Without it, every email, news alert, and new Instagram post seems like the most pressing issue. We must be able to say “no” to that which doesn’t matter so we can focus on what does.
Let me repeat that again:
We must be able to say “no” to that which doesn’t matter so we can focus on what does.
That is to say — we don’t just get to walk around giving zero f*cks all the time. We just should be preserving our energy, time, and attention (our f*cks) for the moments, ideas, and people that count.
This doesn’t mean not caring; it just means being selective in how we exhibit, manifest, and share that care.
And so, to this end, what matters is one’s intent for choosing to be apathetic, not choosing to be apathetic in and of itself.
Take for example the decision not to watch the nightly news. On the one hand, you could be avoiding CNBC, Fox, and CNN because it puts you in a terrible mood and ultimately prevents you from doing the important work that society and your family needs you to do. On the other hand, you could be avoiding them because you don’t care at all about what’s going on in the world. Your motto is: “If it doesn’t affect me, I don’t need to know about it.”
In the first instance, you are choosing to prioritize impact and goodness. In the second, you are stating that the news report, or rather the events it explains, doesn’t even matter to you at all.
This distinction matters immensely. Both versions of you are claiming, by diverting their attention elsewhere, that the news report doesn’t matter at this moment. That is an okay decision to make in and of itself.
But in the first instance, you see the news as an impediment to action. You are choosing not to watch it because it harms your ability to show up and give. In the second instance, however, you disregard the need for action altogether. In not so many words, you say:
“I don’t care.”
Not caring about and for others is a choice you can make, although I’d argue it isn’t a good one. You probably won’t be all that happy or successful if you do choose not to care about anyone or anything. You won’t get where your soul wants to go.
Giving a f*ck, to use Mark Manson’s verbiage, is a required prerequisite to living the life you desire. Choosing, with clear intention and pure heart, where to divert it will make you happier. It will help you, not harm you, in investing your energy, attention, and time in what really matters.
To experience the goodness life has to offer, you must care. Deeply and passionately. About humanity, love, and life itself. We must care about our craft. About impact, service, and growth.
There is no way around it.
False Apathy = Fear
There is a certain terror that comes with caring deeply, which is why most of us ignore the pressing issues around us and settle for connection instead of love. It’s why we claim we are “fine” all the time, failing to admit our true feelings.
Choosing not to care is a distinct choice to protect ourselves from failure, discomfort, suffering, and heartbreak. It’s a cop-out at worst, and a survival adaptation at best.
Choosing not to care — compounded over time — is the path to mediocrity. It is to hedge against that which terrifies you most: which is to feel unseen, unheard, and unloved for who you are.
I have this vivid memory of standing in Times Square with my mom as we waited to find out if we’d won tickets to Wicked. She hopped up and down for two reasons: first, to stay warm, and, second, because she superstitiously believed that if she was energized and positive, she’d win the lottery. I was the opposite. I stood still with a hardened, stern face; I didn’t want to be disappointed. (And apparently, I wanted to be cold, too.)
We didn’t win.
She was, in some micro-fashion, a bit devastated. Because she had cared, of course. She wanted to bring me to see the show, but tickets were sold out. We’d just lost our only way in.
While I was sad for her, I wasn’t sad about losing the lottery. So, I thought, I had won the event — because I defended against that potential shiver of disappointment.
This is a silly example, of course. But the story illustrates why we hate caring. We don’t want to feel like my mom did, not even for a moment.
So, pretending not to care about life, career, competition, business, people, and all the crazy things in this world, is our way of defending against the tears that are waiting to stream and the pits ready to form in our stomachs.
- If you don’t care, you can’t lose.
- If you don’t fall in love, you can’t have your heart broken.
- If you don’t want to win, losing doesn’t hurt.
- If you don’t have opinions, you can’t be wrong.
And so, we don’t put in the effort — to educating ourselves, building the skills, and having the uncomfortable conversations. We don’t love completely and faithfully. We are constantly hedging against the of realizing that we aren’t enough. We won’t speak up and say what we really believe.
In the end, we have the ready-made excuse:
“Well, I didn’t care anyway.”
But here’s the thing:
- If you don’t care, you don’t even have a chance to play the game (and to enjoy it, too).
- If you don’t fall in love, you miss out on the beauty, joy, and excitement of the experience. You won’t know what it is to love someone or something more than yourself.
- If you don’t want to win, you can’t possibly reach your potential as a parent, son or daughter, friend, and human.
- If you don’t have opinions, deep morals and values cannot form.
So, what if instead, we decided to try caring? What would we gain as a result? What might we be able to accomplish, become, and give together?
No matter the hurt you have experienced, no matter the pain you have weathered, no matter the society you’ve been conditioned to live in, your ability to care is unlimited if you only have faith in it.
Your job is not to defend against the terror of uncertainty, it is to experience the depth and meaning life has to offer.
The only way you can do this is by, well, giving a f*ck.
This I know for sure.