I bought Sarah Knight’s The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a Fuck the other day. It was one of those caffeinated-out-of-your-mind-while-wandering-around-Barnes-&-Noble kind of decisions. I’ve read about half of it now and have to say that it’s something of a primer. The reality is that, as Knight herself attests, she’s something of a #zerofucksgiven newb. I meanwhile have been giving zero fucks for most of my life. While a funny book that imparts advice many people really need to hear; as a primer, Knight’s book misses much of the nuance involved in not giving a fuck. So I’ve dedicated this blog post to one of those nuances.
I don’t care, and I don’t care that I don’t care, and I don’t care that you care that I don’t care
I worked with juvenile delinquents from 2004 through 2009. I was young. Some of the juveniles I supervised went to high school with me. I think, because I was young, some of the things my coworkers cared about just weren’t important to me: Bobby wants to stay up late reading Darren Shan novels? Lil’ Marcus is having a rap battle with his neighbor through the air vent that connects their cells? Taj wants to trade his cake slice for Justin’s red beans and rice? I don’t give a shit. My most common answer to kid’s requests for whether they could do something or not: “I don’t care.”
It’s not that I was apathetic. I cared about the kids. It’s that a lot of that shit just did’t matter. If it didn’t affect me, didn’t affect the facility, didn’t affect anyone but the parties involved, then I just didn’t see any need to care. More fundamentally, I realized that caring about things that don’t matter drains you mentally and physically which makes it harder to care about things that do matter. Not only that, but if you train all of your attention on bullshit that doesn’t or just barely matters, it can distract you from the things that do matter. You can also end up conflating things that matter to other people with things that matter to you, at which point you’re in danger of becoming that asshole talking shit about his coworker for wearing a red tie on Blue Tie Day.
Don’t be that guy.
Knight calls this kind of mental calculus a “Fuck Budget.” Artemis Depthcharge affirms that such calculi are necessary in order to avoid becoming “fuckrupt.”
Acting isn’t assimilating
Here’s where the nuance comes in. While it’s true that I just plain didn’t give a shit about many things, I quickly learned that I had to pretend to give a shit about some things. I might not care if a kid tucked his shirt in, but since my boss’s boss’s boss reviewed security camera footage every morning and did care, it behoved me to behave like I cared.
We all perform this trick every day: Your girlfriend says there’s a difference between a hand towel and a dish towel? You don’t give a shit, but she does; so you’d better wipe your hands on the completely-indistinguishable-from-a-dish-towel-to-any-rational-reasonable-not-bipolar-human-being towel if you want her to let you cum in her mouth tonight. Your boss thinks that being one minute late for work “is a big fucking deal, mister”? You don’t give a shit, but she does; and you give a shit about keeping your job, so you’d better pretend to give a shit about the clock. The law says killing for any reason other than self-defense is indefensible? You’re pretty sure motorists who pass you and then immediately slow to a crawl should be promptly run off the road and shot. Well, guess what? Police and the courts give a shit about the law, so you have to at least pretend to as well, or your ass is going to prison.
Knight misses this nuance. She spends a lot of time beating around the bush on this one–on whether and how much to give or not give a shit about this, that and the other, et cetera, et cetera. What she misses is the fact that pretending to give a shit is virtually indistinguishable (to the rest of the world) from actually giving a shit; but one drains you, and the other doesn’t; one distracts from all the things you should care about, and the other doesn’t distract at all.
A great thing about pretending to give a shit is that people almost never notice that you actually don’t give a shit. They also generally don’t care. And, if they ever do figure out that you’re just playing along, guess what? Unless they’re completely unhinged, people generally see your playacting as an act of deference, a compliment. Sometimes they’ll even reward you for it. Your girlfriend might say, “Gosh, babe. It’s so nice of you to wipe your hands on the beige towel and not the white towel even though I know you don’t see the difference. Wanna fuck me up the ass tonight? I’ll even let you use the dish towel to wipe off.”
A word of caution and a word metaphor that probably deserves its own word of caution
The reason Sarah Knight talks about a Fuck Budget and Artemis Depthcharge talks about fuckruptcy is because your fucks and shits are a finite resource. Like I said above, if you give too many shits about things that don’t matter, you’ll find yourself all out of shits when it comes to things that do matter.
Well, pretend give-a-shits work pretty much the same way. While actual give-a-shits drain you mentally and physically, pretend give-a-shits generally don’t. That said, if you let them build up, they can become a certified pain in the ass and a useless one at that.
Think about the Xian bible. Think about the New Testament. Think about those red letter additions. The passages in red only get your attention because there aren’t that many of them. That’s what makes them stand out. Actual give-a-shits are the red letters of your life. Pretend give-a-shits are the black letters. But there’s only so much room on a page, so you can’t just budget your red letters; you have to budget your black letters too.
If you have too many red letters, they all blend together and you lose interest in all of them. With black letters–with pretend give-a-shits–no matter how many you accumulate, they’ll never distract from the red letters. In fact, the more black letters you have–the denser they become–the easier and more gratifying it is to read those red-letter words. But, if you accumulate too many black-letter words, too many fake give-a-shits, they run together, and you lose track of them. They become their own language, and you become a crazy fucking basket case trying to make sense of them. You also might end up pretending to give a shit about things that nobody gives a shit about–things that everybody just pretends to give a shit about–like those quarterly office get-togethers that are just mind-numbingly awkward and boring, populated with people and food no one wants anything to do with and are probably the source of Zika, Ebola and spontaneous murder-suicide rampages.
So, for fuck’s sake, don’t pretend to give a shit about too many things. And actually give a shit about even less.
Take my advice.
Or don’t take it.
I don’t give a shit.