The Power of Just Not Giving a Damn (about some things anyway)

I don't care button on FacebookI was listening to an old Charlie Rose interview (from about two years ago) with the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations Mohammed Khazaee. At the end of the interview Rose asked the ambassador if he had seen the movie Argo about the escape of some Westerners from Iran during the revolution. Khazaee said that he had seen the movie and there were numerous mistakes such as Iranian linguistic conventions for “hello” and “goodbye.” He then went on to demand the movie producers (that would be George Clooney) apologize to the Iranian people for this great insult. Such heated and indignant insults simply demand retribution! Again, I thought about how these demands for an apology were more damaging than anything else and tensions would diminish if people just “didn’t give a damn.”

Muslims regularly report that they feel humiliated by the West, which most Westerners do not understand, and some genuine political events notwithstanding, there seems to be little reason to feel such humiliation. Let’s take a brief look at the value of not giving a damn, or the philosophy of apathy.

I’m not suggesting that we should not care about some things just that too many people care about too many things. One of the tricks of maturity for both an individual and an ethnopolitical group is to develop a sufficiently strong self-esteem that you find little interest in caring about greed, status, self-righteousness, and minor slights. Of course, care about community, the environment, and fairness but always maintain enough empathy and knowledge of the other side to temper your own feelings and recognize even minor legitimacies of the other side. Moreover, we value passion and engagement but it is not worth being passionate and engaged in something you have little control over and can even do without. It is possible to care too much and hence hurt others with words and deeds.

Again, I’m not diminishing the intensity and difficulties of ethnopolitical conflict such as that between the Israelis and the Palestinians. And I understand enough about human psychology to understand the accumulation of anger and distorted messages that result from generations of conflict. But containing and framing that anger is equally as important. Just as every child who matures into adulthood should understand the mistakes his or her parents made, it’s equally as important for personal development and maturation to “get over those mistakes.” The same is true for conflict groups; there are certain slights and humiliations that must recede into the background. Here are a few additional suggestions: 1. Most other groups – most, not all – don’t care about you. If you do not bother them they will not bother you. 2. You do not have to be friends with everyone; you do not have to like everyone in the same way. 3. A certain amount of obscurity is desirable. There’s a pleasure in fading into the background and not being noticed. The people engulfed in the passions of political conflict could use a few more experiences where they shrug their shoulders and sound like teenagers. They should say things every once in a while like “whatever.”



About Donald Ellis

Professor Emeritus at the University of Hartford.

Posted on March 14, 2015, in Communication and Conflict Resolution. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on The Power of Just Not Giving a Damn (about some things anyway).

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