Last week my family came home late after the weekly in-laws’ movie night and as my wife and I were getting things put away, I asked her if she wanted to have her shower first or if I should. Her response was, “I don’t care.” It was said in the “I’m in the middle of something and not really paying attention kind of way,” which is a clear sign that I should go first, but because she replied, “I don’t care,” the little voice in my head said, “You should yell at her!” Fortunately, I learned a long time ago that this voice is pretty stupid, so what I said to my wife was, “Okay,” in the weakest way possible. This little voice I have might be stupid, but it still is the voice in my head and it means something. In this case, as I reflected in the shower (picture Ryan Reynolds… it may not be accurate, but it’s a nicer visual), I remembered a lesson I once started to write but never finished: Stop saying I don’t care.
When some people say I don’t care they really mean they don’t care. Some people are just that easygoing and fine with whatever. I’m not saying those people are men, but… you know. Other people say I don’t care because they’re too busy dealing with other things. I’m not saying those people are women, but… you know. The third main reason people say I don’t care is because they’ve been taught to think that having an opinion only leads to unwanted conflict. I’m not saying these people are like me, but… you know.
There are three main problems with saying I don’t care. First, people want to make those they care about happy, and it’s easier to make someone happy who cares about things. For instance, I love weird stuff and for Christmas my mom gave me the most ridiculous bobbling deer. This made me happy, which in turn, made her happy.
The second problem when someone never gives an opinion is all the decision making lands on the other person. In marriage, this person will eventually feel overwhelmed, which will likely lead them to snapping: “Why can’t you ever choose something!” This is particularly a problem when the person being forced to make all the decisions doesn’t even like making decisions in the first place.
The biggest problem with saying I don’t care is we hear things that aren’t said. It’s like our brain has a little voice that will sometimes add things: “Don’t forget to pick up milk… idiot.” This last part was never said, but sometimes our brain inserts a tagline, especially if we’re feeling particularly insecure or guarded: “Can you please vacuum… you disgusting, lazy pig.” “They didn’t say hi; they must hate me.” Our brains can be really mean. Similarly, when someone says I don’t care, it’s like they’re saying, “I don’t care… because I don’t care about you.”
The good news is the couple tips I offer people in the “I don’t care” situation are pretty simple. The first option only works if the partner is okay with having to make the decision. Instead of saying I don’t care, they need to say, “I’m happy either way.” It’s more positive and shows some care. The second option is the asker can change their question to something like “Do you have a preference for what we have for dinner or should I just pick?” This way the asker is empowered and not just dumped on. The best option is one person has to give two to three options and the other person has to choose an answer even if they don’t care. For instance, we should never ask a question like “What do you want for dinner?” because that’s too open ended. Instead, one person has to ask something specific like “Do you want burgers, eggs, or whatever’s leftover in the fridge?” Notice how specific it is? If you ask someone what they want for dinner, they likely have no idea what’s even an option. This list of options helps prevent that and gives more of a multiple choice question, which is easier to answer. If this list of options is given, the other person has to choose. Logically, if the asker is giving something as an option, they don’t have a preference either, so if they do the work to ask the question, the other person has the responsibility to choose. The chooser can even go with the standard C answer like in many multiple choice tests. The only rule is they have to choose because that will make life easier for the other person and keep the responsibility of decision making fair.
This week may you start to avoid saying I don’t care and/or know how to help someone who does.
Rev. Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, Learning to love dumb people (like me)