Give No F**ks But Plenty Of Damns

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2017-10-29 22:00:00 No comments

The title of this post is hoisted from something I saw in passing on Twitter. I don't spend a lot of time there; my idea of "interacting" with Twitter is opening it long enough to deal with whatever I can only deal with through its interface and then getting the hell out before it eats me alive. But Twitter has a way of forcing you to notice a whole month's worth of gossip in two minutes, and one of the things that did catch my eye on the way out last time was a post with that text in it: give no f**ks, but plenty of damns.

It's catchphrasey, to be sure. But it illustrates a useful viewpoint: at some point in life you have to stop worrying about what other people are going to say or think about you, and get down to whatever business is at hand. You have to care about what you're doing as completely as you can, but not get too hidebound about what others say about it.

What's always bothered me about this view, and still does, is how it too easily degenerates into an excuse to do whatever you want and to hell with the consequences. A degenerate version of this worldview seems to be in vogue with people whose principal reason for being in public life is to tick off "the right people". I'm growing less fond of the idea that ticking off "the right people" is a sign you're doing something good, because it's too easy to let that devolve into a crusade to just enrage anyone you think you don't agree with.

So far, I've teased out two criteria that seem like good guidelines to keep this motion from raving out of control. The first is whether what you're doing will tick people off. If so, that's value-neutral. But if you're starting from the premise that you're going to tick people off, what you're doing isn't going to have room for much else in it, because that's all most people will ever see. This works against you even if other people like what they see, because then some of them will think you're a good model to follow. (Hint: you're not.)

The other thing that seems to work is if you take the whole "what will others think of me?" notion and apply it solely to yourself. Basically, you use it as a way to defeat self-censorship, a way to give yourself permission to entertain that many more possibilities on your own. But again, not for the sake of finding that many more sticks to shove into anthills.

Buddhism is big on the idea of the universe being ruled by, and perhaps composed entirely of, consequences. But the reason you're supposed to study how this works and become intimately aware of it is not so that you can be this pushy busybody telling other people how to live. It's so that you can see how these things play out in your own life, because absolutely nobody else can do that. There wasn't and never will be a single solitary other human being in the whole wide world who can tell me what to do, but that means I have to take that responsibility up for myself, not pretend that means I'm free to do whatever and screw you for giving me grief about it.

At some point in their lives, everyone does something that makes other people do everything from wrinkle their nose to come after you with handcuffs. It's unavoidable, because everyone is different and our society is (still, I hope) predicated on the assumption that out of our differences and our disagreements we can tack that much closer to the truth in time. We need the friction to create sparks. But there's a big difference between living for that, and living just to make the world angry at you.

Tags: creativity motivation psychology