It's Not That I Don't Care. It's That I Don't Care About YOU, Sir.

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 7.236% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

“You don’t seem to care what people think,” she said.  “Which to me is very cool.”
Thing is, that’s not true.  Yes, I reveal a hellish amount of personal data in my blog, sharing emotions, taking controversial opinions, basically putting myself out there so that strangers can come to loathe me.  And I can see how you might think that I just don’t care.
But I do.  That’s why I’ve become so careful with my essay writing – writing slower and more precisely so I can’t be misunderstood by your run-of-the-mill reader.  It’s why I pay close attention to comments, retweets, and incoming blog links.  I’m actually completely paranoid about what you good people think.
Yet there’s the rub: you good people.
I have zero problem ignoring the opinions of idiots.
It’s a survival mechanism I developed in high school, back when bullies used to use my shame as a weapon against me.  I’d spend whole summers trying to be cool for their benefit – pretending I spent my weekends partying, hiding my books, dressing differently, in all ways showcasing my cringing fealty to them.  Because even though they were mean and scornful, I was convinced that if I could just act the right way, I’d eventually gain their affection.  You know, like in every movie, where the bully finally gains a grudging respect for his enemy.
But that’s not real life.  If you’ve ever tried to suck up to a bully, you’ll know what happens: show up in the fine set of jeans they’ve been ragging you about for not wearing, and they’ll deride you for something else.  Or they’ll mock you for thinking you’re good enough to wear those jeans.  Doesn’t matter. Come up to the level they claimed you needed to be at, and bullies will raise the bar.
After eating a whole adolescence’s worth of humiliation, I burned out.  One day I woke up and realized there were some opinions not worth listening to.  Bang.  Bullies shut down.  My life’s been a lot better since.
Since then, I’ve tried hard to gain the favor of people I respect.  Whenever someone I like links to a blog post I wrote, I’ll do a little happydance.  And when they criticize me because I’ve been racist, or sexist, or unclear, or just perhaps plain bullheaded, I have listened. If you were to take the time to read my blog archives – and good luck with that – you’d see that I’ve changed my mind on any number of topics over the years.  My whole approach to blogging has changed.  I refuse to take the old entries down, because I believe that people should come to believe that there’s an arc between where someone was a decade ago and where they are now… But dammit, that doesn’t mean I’m not embarrassed.
I am an antenna, listening.  I worry.  I want to do the right thing.  And on the rare occasions I blow it big time, I literally feel sick.
But!  If you prove to me that you’re an idiot, off you go.  You can comment, you can be mean, you can do whatever – I don’t care.  Because you’ve proven that you’re not sufficiently in touch with reality that I can ignore you.  Emotionally, that kind of guy means nothing to me – not quite a bully, for not every dissenting opinion is intended to bash, but certainly not someone who I’d be healthier or wiser if I listened to them.
So why should I bother?  I’ll read the words; I just won’t be emotionally affected by them.
I can even micro-idiot, if need be.  For there are many people I adore who are idiots on a certain topic.  Craig is a wonderment when it comes to politics, but God forbid you look at his string of depressing relationships and try to take poly advice from that.  Farrah is perhaps the smartest person I know when it comes to dissecting racial topics, but God forbid you get her going on health care.  And so, when they comment on a certain topic, I just shrug and say, “That’s their opinion, and I don’t think it’s right.”
(I don’t say “They’re wrong” except in all of the most dire disagreements, as I find a “wrong” for me often leads to “Well, I never have to question that assumption again” – but rather, “I have done the requisite thinking on this topic and concluded that the evidence is in my favor, so I’m not going to put any more processing time into this until some other relevant factor arises.”  Not as punchy as “You’re wrong,” but it leads to a better life.)
Furthermore, if you think I’m an idiot, well… I might be.  Part of my whole survival mechanism consists of constant self-investigation, probing my weak and strong points alike to see if they could be bolstered… and a large part of that function involves being brutally honest with myself.  I’m frequently wrong.  I don’t always get it right.  And I can either get wrapped around the axle of “ZOMG I WAS SO RIGHT THIS TIME” – or I can do the better thing of actually getting it right next time.
It’s a polling process, for me.  One person I respect thinks I’m an idiot?  That’s gonna happen from time to time.  Store it in the file.  Three people I respect think I’m an idiot?  We’re treading closer to danger.  Ten people, and I start looking for my donkey’s tail.
But there’s no shame in being wrong.  There’s shame in not admitting wrongness.  And that’s a vital point that most people miss.
Tl;dr – yeah, I care.  I care a lot.  But I care only about the opinions of people who’ve proven they’re smarter than I am, and I recognize that I’m gonna get it wrong a lot.  So being wrong?  Not a problem.  Shrugging off jerks?  Not a problem.
It lets me be happy. And bold.  And, occasionally, even in a position to do some good.  So I keep at it.

1 Comment

  1. Penn
    Apr 2, 2013

    I’ve been reading for years and almost never comment.
    This was worth commenting. Thanks for saying this so eloquently. I agree with everything here, and at the same time you are reminding me to question my assumptions periodically.
    I appreciate the insight.

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