The gentle art of giving — and not-giving — a f*uck about what others think
While comparison certainly can generate anxiety in our lives, the advice to simply ‘not give a f*ck’ about what others may think of you is both useful and flawed. In essence, it’s not that simple; accepting the paradox that both giving and not-giving is probably the best advice. This is a response to the excellent story by Alex Mathers, and a critique of the idea generally.
There’s so much that we need to share,
So send a smile and show you care.
I’ve read these kinds of article more times than I can count. It’s a standard trope in self-help/development and the coaching world. This one by Alex Mathers on Medium is well written, and explained very well. I was inspired by it upon reading it; inpsired by the message in the current context of my life, but also inspired to consider a piece of this puzzle that was glossed over.
When I am paralysed by actively seeking to behave in a way that seeks the approval of others, this advice certainly reminds me to be myself:
“F*ck it!” I yell loudly in the mirror, and go on to do something bold that takes me out of my comfort zone.
And then, I get criticised, or ignored, or ostracised by a section of the community who’s opinions I did actually value.
“But I followed this advice,” I contemplate. “They must be wrong, they don’t value my weirdness and my flaws. They’re the wrong people for me.” And so off I go, seeking people who will praise me for acting out in a flawed, weird, crazy manner.
Because, surely everyone else is flawed/weird/crazy just like me?!
And I like you ’cause you’ve got that wild look in your eyes,
I like you ’cause you’re reckless and free as a breeze,
I love you ’cause you’re crazy like me.
— Willie Nelson
The thing is, I am flawed, weird, and crazy.
But not “just like everyone else.”
Because everyone is flawed/weird/crazy in their own unique way. In fact, its the uniqueness that generates our flawdness, weirdness, and craziness — not the other way around.
The earliest example of this idea I have been able to find comes from the ancient Chinese idea, which eventually evolved over centuries into Taoism.
The idea goes something like this:
Every human is born truly unique in every aspect — physiologically, cognitively, emotionally. Each of us has an essential true nature (自然 zìrán) which, when allowed to emerge and express itself completely naturally, will be the inner guiding light with which each of us makes our choices in life. And this ability to live our life this way was described as 無為wúwéi, often translated as effortlessness, and equated with the modern neurological notion of flow.
Kong Fu Zi (Confucius) described the sagely, virtuous person as one who lived this way, and Meng Zi (Mencius) later wrote that it is the conditioning from our families, communities, schooling, and society which prevent us from accessing and acting in this way. Xun Zi took a different perspective, stating that we’re all born rotten and evil, and that education is about creating the conditioning for us to behave admirably.
Here we have the question that these philosophers dealt with in great detail.
When we consider that our neuroses — those aspects and traits of our personality that prevent us from succeeding and achieving our fullest potential (our zìrán) come from familial/social/etc conditioning, its very easy to then follow the advice and embrace our flaws, our weirdness, and our craziness — to throw caution and the opinions of others’ to the wind and follow our deepest hearts’ desires.
But what if one’s true nature is to harm others?
Damn, you know I’ve burnt some sinner’s fire,
Chased the devil now I’ve seen the light,
Ain’t no escape from these evil ways.
— Black Mountain
And here, let’s bring out some extreme examples:
- child abuse
- racist murder
Let’s say that I’m a psychopath; I read this article, and I recognise that the reason I am miserable and hate myself is because I’m not behaving in a manner that allows me to be me. I have the deep desire to hurt women, or children, or to cause physical and emotional pain and suffering to another…
And later, when I’m in a Court of Law, I use the defence, “but your honour, I’m doing this to wake others up, we’re all a ‘little bad’ by default, I’m flooding light on what it means to be an alive human.”
How do we reconcile this notion given that there are people in this world who we would never want to see their true nature expressed?
Yes, we may well all be capable of evil. However, that part of our true nature should never be expressed ever!!
’Cause I’ve been here, and I’ve been there,
Seems like I’ve been everywhere before,
I’ve seen it all a hundred times,
Still I think there surely must be more.
And herein lies the paradox. And a paradox that the later Taoist thinkers considered.
It’s all well and good to live one’s life expressing one’s true nature; but we don’t live in isolation to others. Chinese philosophy, unsurprisingly, considered notions of relationships and thought, wrote, and developed practices about how the best version of ourselves could exist within a society of other people also being the best versions of themselves.
Our actions are measured not only in whether they are the natural, spontaneous expression of our uniqueness, but also in whether that expression impinged on the capacity for another to do the same.
To use a specific personal example:
I am in a committed, loving, monogamous mutual partnership with my lover. Our loving relating is mutual and caring. We are inter-dependent, but not needing each other. We love each other in spite of our flaws, we are radically honest with each other, and we support and hold each other emotionally and mentally. I’m eternally grateful for her and how we relate.
I’ve done a lot of what has been called “shadow work”. Again, the Eastern traditions of Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Tantrism, and Hinduism all mention accepting the ‘good’ as well as the ‘bad’ within us.
One of my darkest shadows is that I have the potential to be a philanderer. I could easily have multiple affairs with multiple women, and not bat an eyelid; and be able to justify it rationally and intellectually. It is part of my nature.
But I don’t.
Because part of the way we hold each other in our relationship is to hold the space for each other to be the best version of ourself. To accept unconditionally the flaws, weirdness, and craziness of the other. And part of this holding of space involves (through much discussion and negotiation) monogamous. Again, for context, both of us are pro-polyamorous and have many friends in such a community. Both of us have are completely OK with the idea, and have engaged in it in the past.
Now, I’m not talking about intimate, consenting relationships based on love and respect. I’m talking about one-night stands; the unconscious sating of my desire for sex, without the consideration of the other woman or her desires or needs or wants. Those familiar with Betty Martin’s Wheel of Consent, this is about a deep, primal, animalistic desire to take.
Were I to engage in this behaviour — because it is part of my nature — I would be impinging on my partner’s capacity to be herself in the context of our relationship. How could she hold space for my uniqueness if I have trashed hers?
Not only that, I could also be impinging on the other women’s capacity to express their true nature (even if it were mutually consentual sex). What is she wanted it slow, while I wanted it fast? Or wanted more than just the single incident? What if she wanted to orgasm, and I ignored that and ceased intercourse before she had?
If I engaged with that part of me, would I be expressing the best part of myself?
What prevents me from sating that desire is that I have the capacity to pause and consider the consequences of my actions.
At the end of the day, if I want my true nature — my flaws, my weirdness, my craziness — to be valued by others, I also need to value theirs, even if that uniqueness somehow is a different craziness to mine own.
Being in a partnership with her, seeing her express herself authentically, not causing harm to another — these are also parts of my true nature, parts which I value over and above the desire to have sex with other women.
And yes, for the record, we have had this conversation. As Alex Mathers puts it in his excellent story, “we have to own those crazy, weird, flawed demons within us.” We don’t hide from these parts of ourselves — that’s the ‘radical honesty’ part of our relationship. As he puts it, by living this way we take responsibility for our actions, how we treat ourselves and treat others, and we can start exploring our uniqueness without the shame, guilt, or judgement that may hold us back from doing so.
An it harm none, do as thou wilt
— Aleister Crowley
We also need to remember the paradox that while we don’t need to give a f*ck about what others think, we kinda do need to give some f*cks — just enough so that others can also be free to not give a f*ck about what we think!
Maybe it’s not too late,
To learn how to love,
And forget how to hate.
— Ozzy Osbourne
Originally published by Petah Raven on .
Exported from Medium on August 1, 2018.