Ambivalent Denial

Have you noticed how the people who most aggressively assert that they don’t care about something are the people whose opinions are almost constantly, pre-emptively horrible? It’s like they’re used to the people they interact with expressing disgust with what they’re about to say, so they armour themselves about with this air of arrogant assertation that whatever it is you think about what they think, they don’t care to hear… while still professing to you what they care about. I remember having an attitude like this; it lasted for a few months (I hope) in my teenage years and since then I’ve been steadily getting better. Yes, we were all teenagers once, assuming you’re not a teenager now, and if you are, I’m dreadfully sorry, but hold on and it should take care of itself.

The thing is, I don’t think I ever really didn’t care about peoples’ opinions. I was hugely invested in them. I wanted them to think of me as smart and cool and interesting and cool and smart, but I knew that that interest was pathetic. Societally, we seem (I guess) to devalue things like cooperation and interaction, where loners and individuals who bully and assert themselves are seen as cool and interesting and powerful (well, if they’re white and wealthy, but that is its own can of worms). Asserting that you don’t care about what others think all the time, pre-emptively, comes across as desperate and pathetic to me.

The problem is, I’ve had a few times recently where someone has said somethign that annoyed me, or something that wasn’t correct, and I just didn’t care. I was told about my work, about myself, about the world situation, by other students and by people online, and in each situation, I consciously wondered: Should I bother correcting this person?

And the mental echo was worrying: No. I don’t care enough.

Examining this reaction is even more awkward, because I find it’s not that I don’t care about the truth. I’ll often leave, write my thoughts down, work on them a bit, and wind up with something I like and present that to the world, such as the creation of Angus, the character in The Sixth Age of Sand. It’s not that I don’t care about the thought, or the issue, but that I don’t care about that other human being’s mental state. I don’t care enough to correct them on issues of art and poetry and beauty. I am willing to let a person wander around with something in their head that I’m left thinking is stupid or wrong, and I, of course, am right, or at least, have reason to believe they’re wrong.

When it comes to strangers, that seems reasonable enough. When it comes to classmates – my peers, technically? – it’s a little disrespectful. But the real problem is when it comes up between people close enough to consider themselves my friends. When dealing with people close to me, and I have this reaction, I know, I know that my reaction is paternalistic. It is me, as a friend, saying I know what you can handle, what you can understand, better than you do.

To step away from more ethical moments, recently a friend of mine started to talk to me about recent anime, after we watched FLCL. My opinion aside, we spoke about Paranoia Agent. Knowing about this person what I do, and about her tastes what I do, I figured that her general interest in Japanese culture was reasonably low, and her tolerance for elements like sex workers and sexual assault (both present in Paranoia Agent) were quite low, and therefore I recommended against it. She corrected me – she’d seen Paranoia Agent and she liked it a lot, though she admitted my reasoning was very sound. The points I mentioned were strong marks against it; essentially, I was mostly correct. My opinion was considered, even if it was, as it turned out, incorrect.

Sometimes, we are authoritive with our opinions. The problem for me seems to arise when a person assumes a level of expertise they do not have. I don’t tell people how to drive; I don’t drive, it would be colossally arrogant of me, and any advice I have would be foolish. When people are taking a course of action and assume they have the right one, I will rarely interject to tell them what they should be doing, because who’s to say I know any better? And if other people want to tell me how I should be doing things, I will try to consider what they have to say, consider what I know of their expertise, and use that information as best I can moving forwards.

Problem is, sometimes, I don’t care.

I’m not going to listen to a first-year student who’s never had a relationship that lasted six months talk to me about how marriages work. I’m not going to listen to a teacher who genuinely is flummoxed by the windows interface telling me about the value of computers. I’m not going to listen to a friend – a well meaning friend! – talk to me comparing missing a train to my mother’s cancer.

I don’t think that makes me a bad person? Maybe a bit petty at times.

2 comments

  1. Mispy

    There is a bit of a barrier between the theoretical and practical to keep in mind. People might have very good understandings of a subject that they are terrible at actually applying, and conversely someone who is very good at something may be entirely unable to convey the true source of their ability in words.

    But for the most part your approach is sensible ^_^

    • Talen Lee

      This is true, and I personally strive to embrace some of what I think of as the wisdom of fools. Hearing a lecturer who knows nothing about computers complain about computers gives me ideas for how he might find an interface natural. I berate fellow gamers for not considering how games seem to newcomers. There is clear value in different, even misinformed perspectives.

      It’s just it’s hard to care about those opinions.

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