Recently a friend was telling me about a conversation he had with a demanding customer. She wanted a discount, and my friend didn't want to give one. The customer made a rude comment and walked away. End of story.
"End of story?" I said, "You didn't say anything? Tell her she was rude, explain your pricing system, nothing?"
"No," said my friend, then he uttered the four most popular words in the English language today: "I just don't care."
I'm hearing this a lot lately. So much so, in fact, that I've come up with a name for it: the I Just Don't Care defense (IJDC).
When I was younger, "I don't care" was the dominion of the older set, invoked to justify why they were wearing baggy sweats to the grocery store or running around town with their hair in curlers. I assumed it was their ungraceful way of disengaging with a world they felt was outpacing them.
I understand that feeling. I don't wear sweats or curlers, but I do wear cut-off capris and my hair pulled back. Do I wish I looked my absolute very best every single day? Yes. But it gets harder and takes more time and effort with every passing year. I do feel in some ways that the world is outpacing me, and that I, too, am not handling the news gracefully.
I was recently listening to a friend lament the fact that he hadn't bought new clothes in a long time and, as such, he felt he wasn't dressing well. For most people, this would have been a cue to reassure him that he looked just fine. But Friend No. 2, who is one of the most authentically truthful people I know, cocked her head and asked, "Do you just not care anymore?"
It turned out he did care, very much. Ouch.
As I age, I find myself unhooking from outside opinion, letting go of certain expectations for myself and enjoying the freedom that comes with relaxing my guard. But if you ask me why I dress like I do, I wouldn't say all of that. I would say it's because I Just Don't Care. But, like my friend, I do care. Just not about what you might think.
There's something to be said for finally going your own way, for deciding what you are and aren't willing to do to meet some outside standard of approval. It's healthy, it's freeing, and it takes a certain amount of self-confidence. So given that not caring can be so positive, why does it have to sound so negative?
I've decided the time has come to rethink the "I Just Don't Care" defense, to look at what the phrase really means. Does it mean we've given up, thrown in the towel, turned our backs on the march of time and progress? I don't think so. I think "I Just Don't Care" actually means "I Care Greatly, But About Something Else."
In other words, "I Just Don't Care" is the new "I Care."
My friend with the rude customer who "didn't care" enough to confront her actually cared very much -- but not about exacting revenge. He cared about his own peace of mind. Harmony. Drama-free interaction.
When I get dressed in the morning and "don't care" enough to wrestle my hair into submission and iron a pair of slacks, I actually care very much -- about sitting down to my writing as quickly as possible before inspiration gets away from me. And all those people running around in their sweats and curlers? They care, too; we just don't know what about.
So here's what I think: The time has come to lay down our false shield of apathy, to stop explaining or pardoning ourselves with declarations of indifference. Next time you're about to assert that you just don't care about something, say instead what you do care about. The answer might surprise us all.
Contact Dana Shavin at Danalise@juno.com.