Apathy and the Pain of Passion
It can be hard to tell the difference between zen-like peace and apathy. Apathy; a state of mind and being that basically says, “I don’t care,” “Nothing matters,” “Whatever the outcome, I won’t have a hand in it,” “Let it be.”
This can sound lazy and disconnected. It can also sound spiritual as the person seems to be pursuing non-attachment and letting go of control.
Both can be and are, sort of, true.
It’s hard to tell the difference.
One thing to notice about apathy is how cleverly it can display and communicate itself as wisdom and enlightenment.
But, it can also be fear...
Often, the reason we take a step back and decide we don’t care is because we don’t want to get hurt, we don’t want to fail, we don’t want to be held responsible for the outcome. It indeed sounds cool and relevant and very zen to talk as though we could not care less how things go, but then we have to ask, “Should a person care about how something turns out? And if so, why does this person not care?”
To care means you are invested.
To care means you want to participate. To care means you can get hurt.
It can, not always, but often, be easier to step back than it is to put yourself into something knowing full well it might rip you open.
We can still be passionate and focused and dedicated and purposeful, without being controlling. Caring greatly can easily turn into control and often does. Being passionate can become possessive. But sometimes we don’t fully try, because we don’t want to fully fail.
We don’t admit our dreams because we don’t want to feel the embarrassment that could come when everyone around watches the dream not come to pass.
Admitting your dream increases the audience, the jury and the judge, so we keep our honest thoughts and feelings to ourselves - so when we’re disappointed, we can limit the pain and perhaps even prevent anyone from knowing we failed.
We hold back to protect ourselves from failure. We don’t get emotionally invested because we don’t want to hurt emotionally. We play it cool to pretend we’re wise and strong, all the while under the surface we’re honestly just afraid.
We engage our days with our heads, not our hearts.
So, if we’re pursuing non-attachment and peace and letting go of control... amazing! I need to do that and I work on it all the time. But we need to make sure that our zen-ness doesn’t become laziness and disconnected-ness and apathy.
Question your apathy, “Why don’t I care? Do I really not care? Am I afraid of something here?”
In life, when we arrive at mile marks unplanned, undesired, not aimed for, we don’t appreciate them. The only way for a goal to feel good is to be feeling it along the way. If you don’t care about an outcome, you probably should not be there when it arrives.
Our time should be spent pursuing and moving towards the desired outcomes of the combined force of our hearts and minds. If it’s too much head, it will be a checklist, it will get boring, it will not satisfy. If it’s too much heart, you’ll cry at every turn and up when the going gets tough. If we’re not carefully blending these two forces, we’ll shift into apathy.
We should care how things turn out, while simultaneously reminding ourselves that any outcome could occur.
We should put our heart into something, knowing full well it might get ripped open.
We should be passionate about ideals, yet not possessive about the details.
We should be invested as fully as possible, knowing full well—anything is possible.
A personal passion I got really mad at my five year old Griffin last week. We went through a 30-45 minute conflict where he wouldn’t listen, argued, yelled at me, hid under the kitchen table, all over a bandaid. It sucked. Well my temper ran out and I yelled at him, louder than I ever have. I grabbed him and brought him to my room and made him sit there until he snapped out of it. And it worked. He calmed down. He cried. I cried. We sat on the floor and hugged for a while. We figured it out, but I hated how I did it. I felt like shit all day.
Later that night I’m retelling my wife about it and I start crying again. The next day, some of the feelings were still with me. This short encounter messed me up. Why? I have conflict at work sometimes, disagreements, things I need to fix, but it doesn’t bother me. A customer could call and let me know I screwed something up and that they were very dissatisfied, and it wouldn’t come close to making me feel the way this encounter did. But as I sat with it all day, it came to me…it’s because I give a shit.
It’s because I care. It’s because I’m invested. It’s because this thing—being a dad, a father, my beautiful son—means more to me than anything.
My wife helped remind me, “Ronnie, you feel bad because being a good dad is probably at the top of your priorities in this life. It’s what you want more than anything. If you didn’t feel bad, then that’s another thing you should be feeling bad about. But the fact that you’re torn up and tormented and in pain is—because you care deeply.” It’s more difficult to live a life where we give a shit.
Putting myself 'out there'
I suck at this with politics. I often talk like I just don’t care, but that’s usually just because I’m afraid of how much I don’t know about it all. How little I know about diplomacy and bills and amendments and the house of congress and taxes and foreign policy (I even had to google some of those terms to sound smart). So a go-to move is to throw out the phrase, “I don’t care,” or “whatever,” or “they can do whatever they want” or “Government. Yah, government is just x-y-z.”
I go to this place where I step back, look away and talk about it like I don’t care. But I do. We all do. It’s our country; our schools and hospitals and businesses and livelihood. Who doesn’t care about that?
I am usually very nervous and self-conscious and talk myself out of a lot of things I want to write and say. I picture people thinking I’m cocky or arrogant or stupid or ignorant, or will get proven or shown wrong by someone much smarter than I on some viewpoint I have. Whenever I am published, my heart bites the nails it doesn’t have.
Because it means a lot to me. It’s my heart on it’s sleeve. It’s sharing my thoughts and emotions and viewpoints. It’s very vulnerable. It feels like I’m laying myself out on the chopping block. It’s scary.
Because I love it. And because I love it, the likes and dislikes and comments and shares drive me good and bad crazy.
Someone could say, “Hey man, who cares what people think? Just write and share and who cares?” But I’ve just written an article about this very thing, haven’t I? I remind myself that people are free to like, dislike, agree or disagree with every sentence. But to act like it doesn’t affect me and that my heart isn’t into it would be apathy; playing a trick on my mind to protect myself from feeling it.
It’s harder to admit that you care.
I think you should care about your posts, and feel it when you see the outcome. And that’s what I keep coming back to. Whether it’s music or starting a new business or posting an article or trying something new, I think it should be emotional, and that the outcome should affect you. And instead of backing down to fear; instead of pretending to be cool and zen; instead of acting like I don’t care; I should.
I care what you think, and I think that’s good. I think we should be heavily—heartily—invested in outcomes; crying when we fail, rejoicing when we thrive, knowing that putting your heart into something is the only way to feel fully alive.
Ronnie is an artist who's ideas have launched businesses, apps, music albums, and as of late, cartoons. You can visit his website here. He thinks outside the box but don't tell him that, he doesn't believe in boxes, unless you're in a movie cinema. Ronnie lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, U.S.A with his wife Anna and their three boys Jack, Griffin and Maverick.
See previous articles by Ronnie Herrema