“Whatever” is often thought of as an expression of not caring. But really, the phrase ‘whatever’ indicates a conceptual sore spot. It’s like a bright neon sign that the topic, idea, or thought at hand is something you’d rather avoid. Much like discomfort and vulnerability, this innate desire to avoid the feeling makes us quite bad at harnessing it for productive purposes.
Saying “I couldn’t care less” always confused me. It has always seemed to me that caring isn’t a scale that has a baseline of 0 — in other words, it is impossible to ‘not care’ entirely. You can care about something in a positive way (love, respect) or you can care about something in a negative way (hate, contempt), but you can’t truly say ‘I don’t care’ with sincerity. By even addressing whatever it is that you say you don’t care about you’ve actually displayed some level of caring! It’s like trying to say ‘this sentence is false.’ A classic eightstep me paradox.
In this way, ‘caring’ fits perfectly into the Ups and Downs orientational metaphor I have been focused on for the last few posts. While I don’t want to frame this particular topic that way, it is useful to realize that positive and negative care are two distinct hiererachies embedded within a larger heterarchy of caring. This is the same structure I outlined regarding the hierarchy of needs. This embedded heterarchy suffers from the same problem — your orientation is entirely dependent on your location within one of the embedded hierarchies. In other words, it’s very easy to end up zooming when you forget that there is a beginning after the end.
We can visualize this in the same way as the reflected hierarchies:
This simple graphic shows my confusion over the phrase “I couldn’t care less.” If you are at either edge of this hourglass ‘caring less’ means that your valence will shift inward — caring less when you love or hate something means you’ll slide closer to the center (which I’ve labeled ‘whatever’). If you already feel like you don’t care about something (“whatever”) ‘caring less’ will mean that you slide outward in one or the other direction — caring less negatively about something means you’ll be closer to loving it, while caring less positively about something means you’ll be closer to hating it.
And no, I don’t mean to imply that things are this simple:
It is a 3-dimensional Merkabah after all, so the two pyramids are thoroughly interconnected. As this article describes, you can hate and love and the same time. The author, Dr. Ben-Zeév, explains that love and hatred can co-exist because they are not opposite ends of a spectrum, but distinct experiences. Much like the two pyramids of the Merkabah (which represent opposite sides of the same coin, like yin and yang or man and woman), love and hate are distinct, but deeply interrelated things. It is not a contradiction to care about something in a negative and a positive way simultaneously, but it is contradictory to not care at all.
Now, I’m no stranger to indifference; my life up until now has been a giant black hole of apathy. These last few months have been an exercise in re-discovering what I’ve ignored. But that’s just the thing — apathy isn’t a true lack of care, it’s ignorance. The word “care” literally means:
feel concern or interest; attach importance to something
While it can certainly feel like something is entirely uninteresting or unimportant there is always something interesting about commonality and always something important about the unimportant. As I’ve said before, ascribing something meaning creates meaning; seeing a pattern makes it real.
Not caring about something makes you care about it.
Whatever is so important here because it is a sign that you are close to your self. If you catch yourself saying “whatever” or “I don’t care,” probe a little deeper… you might see your reflection.
Someone once said to me: “if I don’t give a $#&@ you can’t hurt me.”
But truly, if ‘whatever’ is your go-to attitude, you’re already hurting yourself.