All the shit Michael Kasdan reads tells him forging a better life starts by not giving a fuck and calling out the douchebags.
I’ve read a lot of articles this past year. A lot. The world keeps happening, and whether good or bad, people keep writing great things about the events that shape our lives and history. France. Ferguson. The Israeli-Palestine conflict. And before that, Newtown. The list goes on and on.
The proliferation of articles and the ability to share them so easily on social media sometimes makes us feel like we can’t keep up. For me at least, I get a bit overwhelmed. How will I remember all of these great editorials and ways to see the world and learn lessons and improve ourselves and our society—in bits and pieces in The New Yorker, The Economist, The New York Times, The Good Men Project, The Onion, The Atlantic, Salon, The BBC, NPR, in Facebook status posts and threads, in Tweets? How will I integrate their lessons and wisdom?
And so I talk and talk and talk and talk. I collect quotes. I bookmark articles. I share them. And read and read and read.
But the same questions still tug at the back of my mind.
My only hope now is to try to synthesize the collected wisdom. And that’s what I’m going to try to do here.
But cataloging the articles I’ve read and saved on the issues of the day—whether it be gun violence, our eroding democracy, privacy issues, racism, white privilege, police violence, anti-semitism, our struggling education system, politics, free speech, ethical quandaries, religious persecution, terrorism, the environment, art, or our relationships—seems to be a monumentally impossible task.
Instead, I’m going to start with the articles, speeches and quotes that just stick my brain. Trust myself. A little.
Two recent articles that stick out above the rest as particularly wonderful are The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck and Douchebag: The White Racial Slur We’ve All Been Waiting For. Both should be read and enjoyed in their entirely. But in the meantime, allow me to attempt to synthesize.
In The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, Mark Manson uses—ahem—colorful language to great effect.
The point is this: Life is about figuring out what you care about, and then, when you do, not being afraid to stick your neck out for those things:
When we say, “Damn, watch out, Mark Manson just don’t give a fuck,” . . . what we mean is that Mark Manson doesn’t care about adversity in the face of his goals, he doesn’t care about pissing some people off to do what he feels is right or important or noble. What we mean is that Mark Manson is the type of guy who would write about himself in third person and use the word ‘fuck’ in an article 127 different times just because he thought it was the right thing to do. He just doesn’t give a fuck.
* * *
If you find yourself consistently giving too many fucks about trivial shit that bothers you — your ex-girlfriend’s new Facebook picture, how quickly the batteries die in the TV remote, missing out on yet another 2-for-1 sale on hand sanitizer — chances are you don’t have much going on in your life to give a legitimate fuck about. And that’s your real problem. Not the hand sanitizer.
In life, our fucks must be spent on something. There really is no such thing as not giving a fuck. The question is simply how we each choose to allot our fucks. You only get a limited amount of fucks to give over your lifetime, so you must spend them with care. As my father used to say, “Fucks don’t grow on trees, Mark.” OK, he never actually said that. But fuck it, pretend like he did.
In Douchebag: The White Racial Slur We’ve All Been Waiting For, Michael Mark Cohen explains why ‘douchebag’ is the perfect white racial slur:
“The douchebag is someone—overwhelmingly white, rich, heterosexual males—who insists upon, nay, demands his white male privilege in every possible set and setting. The douchebag is equally douchey (that’s the adjectival version of the term) in public and in private. He is a douchebag waiting in line for coffee as well as in the bedroom.“
While I agree, for purposes of this article, I’d like to broaden out his thesis a bit:
In life, there are entitled, self-interested, greedy, and ideologically opposed jerks who will be standing in your way, at every turn. Don’t be this person. And if you are confronted by this person, call them out on their shit.
Among those listed in the article are Gordon Gekko, Charlie Sheen, and scads of others:
Gordon “greed is good” Gekko is lord high douchebag, and Charlie Sheen is his firstborn and crowned prince douchebag.
There are billionaire CEO douchebags like Larry Ellison and Donald Trump, and wage slave douchebags who work as lifeguards, bartenders and in sporting good stores but aspire to be billionaires. Tech, finance, and consulting douchebags predominate, but there are also high concentrations of douchebags in real estate, mid-level management, fitness, video games, and television entertainment.
* * *
What should you do if you know or even care about someone who is douchebag? Well, apart from some kind of systemic forced re-education, I suggest you follow the rules established for Schmidt, the resident comic douchebag on the TV show New Girl. Every time Schmidt demands his First World privilege, his roommates cry foul and order him to stuff cash in the “douche jar,” thereby collecting a punitive tax on the rich and douchey that can be used to subsidizes the house beer fund. Perhaps there is a lesson for social policy in this gag?
And then there are the speeches that have stuck with me: David Foster Wallace’s ‘This Is Water‘ speech; George Saunders’ ‘Err Towards Kindness‘ speech; Kurt Vonnegut’s ‘Hello Babies‘ speech, and John Gardner’s ‘Road to Self Renewal‘ speech.
When you stop to examine them all, many common themes pop out.
David Foster Wallace says that we need to actively exercise control over what we pay attention to and how we navigate our lives, even the simple take-it-for-granted stuff:
The point here is that I think this is one part of what teaching me how to think is really supposed to mean. To be just a little less arrogant. To have just a little critical awareness about myself and my certainties. Because a huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded. I have learned this the hard way, as I predict you graduates will, too.
* * *
[L]earning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.
George Saunders says—quite simply—‘be kind’:
What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness . . . Its a little facile, maybe, and certainly hard to implement, but I’d say, as a goal in life, you could do worse than: Try to be be kinder.
Each of us is born with a series of built-in confusions that are probably somehow Darwinian. These are: (1) we’re central to the universe (that is, our personal story is the main and most interesting story, the only story, really); (2) we’re separate from the universe (there’s US and then, out there, all that other junk – dogs and swing-sets, and the State of Nebraska and low-hanging clouds and, you know, other people), and (3) we’re permanent (death is real, o.k., sure – for you, but not for me). Now, we don’t really believe these things – intellectually we know better – but we believe them viscerally, and live by them, and they cause us to prioritize our own needs over the needs of others, even though what we really want, in our hearts, is to be less selfish, more aware of what’s actually happening in the present moment, more open, and more loving.* * *There’s a confusion in each of us, a sickness, really: selfishness. But there’s also a cure. So be a good and proactive and even somewhat desperate patient on your own behalf – seek out the most efficacious anti-selfishness medicines, energetically, for the rest of your life.
Kurt Vonnegut? He also says ‘be kind’:
Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth.
It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here.
There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.
John Gardner says its all about learning and pushing our own growth. Every step of the way:
[T]he metaphor is all wrong. Life isn’t a mountain that has a summit. Nor is it, as some suppose, a riddle that has an answer. Nor a game that has a final score.
Life is an endless unfolding and, if we wish it to be, an endless process of self- discovery, an endless and unpredictable dialogue between our own potentialities and the life situations in which we find ourselves. By potentialities I mean not just success as the world measures success, but the full range of one’s capacities for learning, sensing, wondering, understanding, loving and aspiring.
To summarize, this is pretty much what I got out of all the good shit I have read:
- Be Kind.
- Always be open to learning.
- When you see something, say something.
- And then do something.
Be Kind. This should go without explaining. But as George Saunders explained, it really does require acting with intention.
Always be open to learning. Decide what to care about. Be open to growth and change and questioning your assumptions.
When you see something say something. Then do something. (And yes, I realize that the first part of this is the MTA slogan!). What does it mean?
Simply, this: Don’t sit idly by when fucked up shit happens. Call it out. Point. Hashtag it. Yell it. Organize. Act.
Because, as Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.“
Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons/Lord Jim