Thursday, April 25, 2013


The idea of not caring what people think has clearly been around for a long time. It's a phrase I remember as far back as I have memory. It often goes something like, "I'm going to do ____ and I don't care what people think."

This used to be a liberating idea. It used to be rebellious, at least in my experience. For me it was paired with things from the 1960s and early 1970s. (Sometime things from the 1860s and 1870s too I suppose.) Things like, women wearing pants or baseball players wearing mustaches, or same-sex couples holding hands in public. But the idea of it always seemed to somehow relate to fighting off some societal oppression. Not big things, like civil rights, but smaller everyday things, like the time I wore a cape and goggles to school. Over the years I've been alive "not caring" has become ubiquitous.

But now it's also become a tool of small oppression. Or at least a tool of expressing oppressive thoughts. Over the last couple years I've seen the phrase morph into something more like, "I don't care if I offend people." The one that spurred me to this writing is a post that's been going around social media regarding the pledge of allegiance.

Theres' nothing more American than not caring about offending people. This is really just one example of many posts like this one that claim some virtue in not caring about offending people. Now, I'm not going to get into a long screed about when the words "under God" were added to the pledge. I'm also not going to get too far into the separation of church and state and state except to point out that making little kids of other religions, or no religion, recite the pledge as written is horribly oppressive. (And the idea that they can opt out by sitting quietly is hogwash, singling them out as different opens them up to bullying etc.) What I will go into here is that the backwards idea that doing something oppressive is now somehow a noble act.

I guess we shouldn't be surprised. We live in an era of white men claiming injustice at any threat to their power or privilege. They feel they have to take back the country and what not. And I suppose it's not new to point out that the oppressors often try to adopt the tactics and slogans of the oppressed and turn them to the purposes of continued oppression, but this bothers me. it bothers me because it's not being used in the cause for equality, it's being used to foster anti-social behavior. It's a call against civility.

There was a time when it was cool to not care what people think, like in "Footloose." Now it's been carried too far. Now it's being used to say rude things to people. "Fuck it, I'm going to drive between lanes. I don't care what people think." Just this morning a grounds keeper on campus told me "Don't worry about it." when I pointed out that they were blocking a busy drive way. "It'll only be an hour." she said, despite the fact that if she moved her truck eight feet to the right she wouldn't be blocking anything at all.

I care intensely what people think. I want to be liked. I don't think this is a bad or weak or anti-revolutionary thing. I take pride in doing small, polite, things to try to make people around me happy and comfortable. I walk on the right side of the stairwell. I drive fast in the fast lane. I wear headphones on the metro. These are small things that help people feel happy and comfortable. I curse way less than I used to. Not because I think swearing is bad, but because I know it bothers other people and I'm educated enough to find other words. I care about not offending people. I'm a religious person, but many people don't know that because I'm not loud about it. I don't care what other people believe. I don't care if other people believe the same things that I believe. But I do care that big outward displays of religion can make people uncomfortable. I work in a university, big outward displays of religion are not appropriate in most of what I do. I care about that. I don't feel censored, or stifled, or oppressed. My beliefs are mine, whether other people want to hear them or not doesn't affect me. I can be just a religious quietly as I can by being in everyone's face. But one way doesn't bother people and the other way can, so I'm quiet.

I'll give another example. I teach a class that focuses on business and government. I encourage students to know what's going on in the world. I try to help them build habits that will keep them informed. My default is to tell them they should listen to NPR at least an hour each week. But NPR is a liberal station. So I don't tell students to listen to NPR, I tell them to listen to news radio. I offer NPR and Capitol News Radio as examples. One is more liberal, one is more conservative. I offer the conservative example for my students because I don't want any of them to feel uncomfortable because they think I'm pushing a political agenda. That feeling could damage their trust in me as an objective and neutral instructor. They may then feel they have to censor themselves in order to protect their grade. I would hate for that to happen, in part because it's the kind of thing that may never come to light. Then that person has had a negative experience that I can't help fix because I don't know that it's happened. So I offer both liberal and conservative views in my class because my job is to serve the needs of all my students, not just the ones who feel comfortable with my views.

I care about people's feelings. I care about offending them. This is a good thing. We can't get to a point where we don't care about anyone or anything. We can't become completely self centered. We have to be willing to do the small, but important things that improve life for all of us. So I urge people, stop labeling anything that asks you to make an effort as "PC." As if being PC is a bad thing. Call people what they want to be called, it doesn't cost you anything. Wear headphones. Don't burn smelly candles with your office door open. Don't bring nuts to school. It's basic common courtesy. Being a dick isn't revolutionary. Respecting people isn't an affront to your rights. You should care about offending people, especially when it's small things. If you want to kiss your same-sex partner in public, kiss that person! Who cares if people don't like it, it's a basic human need, to love and be loved and express love. If you want to make Hindu kid feel isolated at school you're being a dick. There's a difference.

This is how to not care what people think

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