Apathy has long had a bad reputation as a response to events, but to me that reputation is an ill deserved one. Certainly political apathy is a dreadful blight on our democracy, but it strikes me that in the wider context apathy seems to get an unnecessarily bad rep.
When I think of where my own highly-ingrained sense of apathy came from, I hark back to the days when I was a young Catholic school-boy. I had a favourite prayer, and it went like this:
God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.
That particular prayer is particular to the Christian faith, but its message will be familiar to people from all kinds of spiritualties. In virtually every religion there is a prayer somewhere that asks for the ability to conquer the problems one can, and to accept those which cannot be changed.
I find that seeking such help from an imaginary being, however, to be rather a waste of time when one can actually do something about this deep-rooted human problem one’s self – with appropriately applied apathy. Or, to put it another way, just listen to two of those rare, un-bigoted characters in Disney history:
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Yes, I am a signed up member of the “Hakuna Matata” fan club. It is the very essence of appropriately applied apathy; the ability to not merely accept that which one cannot change, but to not give a flying fuck about it.
I can hear you beginning to protest already, that Timone & Pumba did eventually learn that following the problem-free philosophy wasn’t the way to lead your life when they decided to help their friend with his problems. But I would say that apathy wasn’t their problem – blindly following a dogma was where they were going wrong.
You see, following anything blindly is ludicrous, and blindly applying a philosophy to every aspect of your life is even more absurd. I’m not saying that apathy should be the default response to everything, or that it’s even going to be the right way to respond to most things. On the other hand, it’s not by any means a negative response – it can be really useful.
The problem is that people worry. People worry about all kinds of things, and worry is definitely a negative response to something. I have yet to be made aware of a single instance in the history of humanity where worry has actually helped someone out of a predicament, solved a problem, or even marginally improved a situation. It’s entirely useless as a response, it really is!
Everyone gets a worry response to stressful situations in their lives, and that’s absolutely fine. What’s not OK is letting that worry stop you from figuring out what to do about the situation. And if there’s nothing that you can do to fix, aid or otherwise further the position you’re in, then just STOP WORRYING! It will not only do you no good, it will quite possibly make things worse. Apathy is a much better road to take.
So, how can you tell if you should be responding with apathy or action? Well, remember those prayers that ask a deity to help you to figure out what you should do something about, and what you should just accept? Well, here I am to help you out!
Just think, when something starts to set off the old worry reflex – is there anything I could possibly do to fix this? Really think about it; don’t just say “ah well, nothing I can do,” without considering all your options properly. And don’t say “nothing I do will make a difference,” even if it’s likely to be the case. Apathy is great, but it’s no competition for doing something if the option is there; if you can do something, then damn well do it! If there’s something you can do to solve the thing causing you worry, then you’ll get no sympathy from me when you’re torn up with worry. You can either fix the problem, or shut the fuck up.
Let’s say that you can’t find anything that you can do about the problem. It’s not that what you can do doesn’t feel like a significant thing, or that what you could do is a lot of effort, or any other bloody stupid cop-out. You seriously can’t do anything about the situation, at the very least for the time being. Now what? Well, you could worry. Or you could forget about it, and get on with your life – that’s right, you could employ apathy.
You’ll notice I said “at least for the time being” back there. That’s because you can employ apathy instead of worry even when there are things you can do to change your life, but not right now. Your partner sends you a message at lunch telling you she wants to speak to you when you get back home that evening. You can’t do anything about it until the evening, right? So you can either spend your time working yourself into a stressed-out, unreceptive, emotional wreck all afternoon – or you can get on with work until the discussion when you get home.
So next time you feel the sensation of worry rising, and life feels like it’s going to deal you a deathly blow, just sit back, peer at it from all the different angles, and then once you’ve done everything you can do make things right – hakuna matata. You won’t get it perfect the first time, as apathy is a trait which requires some practice to really get a handle on; but you will worry less and less, and eventually become a master of not giving a monkey about it.
And at the end of all this, if you don’t like the idea that appropriately applied apathy can help you to lead a healthy, stress-free, contented life; well – no worries.