Each day, I skim through the headlines of the Aspen Institute’s Five Best Ideas of the Day newsletter. One caught my eye this morning:
The premise is unnervingly true. Caring less is the cultural aspiration du jour in a time when many of us are suffering from outrage fatigue. The “zero fucks given” meme entered internet vernacular in late 2010 and surged during the last election season:
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck has sold over a million copies, is a New York Times #1 Bestseller, and has spent 29 weeks on Amazon’s Most Read Nonfiction Chart, where it currently occupies the #1 spot.
I lead a startup focused on education resource equity where there is no shortage of outrage about the status quo. We care deeply about the injustices, inefficiencies, and inequities we witness every day – in the education system and as a woman-led startup. We would love to care less. If I cared less, maybe I could lay off the antacid, sleep well, lose 10 pounds, and have some emotional capacity left over for personal relationships.
We fantasize about this so often that my business partner and I have even dreamed up a fictional business that we could run without caring at all: a personalized nail-polish business called Nailed.it. Oh, to run a business with products of zero consequence.
Here’s the ugly truth about progress: if those driving it cared less, we wouldn’t make any. Social impact work is difficult, enraging, slow, and often thankless. As Dr. Seuss tells us, one has to care a whole awful lot to make change in this world.
While we make jokes and wish for occasional relief from the crushing anxiety of caring so much, I don’t want to live in a world where people doing important social work care less. I do not want to live in a world where people doing the grueling unhappy work to cure disease or educate children or develop clean energy solutions or alleviate poverty or advocate for civil rights wake up in the morning and ponder, “Maybe a nice forest-bath today.” I want to live in a world where people wake up angry and go to work.
When I feel depleted and daunted and start daydreaming about a happy, care-free life, I remind myself of this passage from Brave New World:
“But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.”
“In fact,” said Mustapha Mond, “you’re claiming the right to be unhappy.”
“All right then,” the Savage said defiantly, “I’m claiming the right to be unhappy.”