Thinking Out Loud

I Don’t Care

“I don’t care.”  I used to say this quite a lot but stopped once I realized the impact it has on many people. The truth is I really don’t care about a lot of things. For example, if you ask me if I prefer having one thing or another to eat, I am likely to be content with either. To someone with definite preferences about food, that may be hard to accept, let alone understand.

On a free day when there are no particular plans, if I’m asked what I’d like to do, once again I’m likely to say, “I don’t care.” I understand it’s hard to accept this, too. I’ve often had the response, “How could you not care?” or “Are you just saying that so you don’t disappoint me?” Often I’m happy to do whatever comes along or is of interest to the other person I’m spending time with. But saying, “I don’t care,” really sounds bad. It can seem apathetic or that I’m not really invested in the relationship with the other person. Another way of saying this is, “It doesn’t matter,” which is equally bad. Choice of words matter and explaining what you mean matters a lot.

So, I’ve learned to say (when I don’t care what I eat), “I could be happy with just about anything. Is there something that sounds particularly good to you?” When I say it like this, I’m defining what my “not caring” means . . . well, in fact, I am caring: I’m showing care for the other person by staying connected. And the decision is still a shared experience.

It’s the shared experience part that’s particularly important because it’s about the importance of the relationship. Using the shorthand, “I don’t care,” isolates the other person—or yourself. It’s not easy to assess the impact we have on others with our choice of words. When we get feedback that doesn’t match our intention, clarifying the meaning of what we said usually helps.

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