I have no idea where the expression “I couldn’t give two shits” came from.
Despite being near the top of my ‘commonly used phrases’ list, it still puzzles me why giving a number of shits towards something would be seen as the ultimate sign of caring. As if some grand shit giving presentation is the pinnacle of all meaning.
Not giving a fuck is another way of putting it. But I prefer the sheer perplexity of using ‘not giving two shits’.
People often say, including me, the key to being happy and peaceful in life is to tear down the walls we build up around us and pull off the masks we wear to just be ourselves. In other words, to stop giving two shits about who everyone else wants us to be and just be our true, authentic selves.
Alas! The word ‘authentic’ has seemingly now been added to the list of buzzwords and clichés in the personal development world, which means we can no longer use it or run the risk of forever being castigated by the ‘self-help gods’. I, on the other hand, couldn’t give two shits about this (see what I did there?) as I actually like the word authentic. It’s in the dictionary like all the other words and I happen to feel it illustrates my point quite well.
Maybe not giving two shits about this stuff is something I’ve now learned to do, but it’s definitely not always been that way. I spent a large portion of my life giving shits about everything. In fact, I gave more than two shits. I would go around giving as many shits as I could about every shitting aspect of life.
To put it another way, I was a serial shit giver. And it was very tiring.
I’d give shits about anything and everything. What everyone thought of me, where I was going in life, what people thought about where I was going in life, how much money I was earning, how much I’d achieved, big life things, small everyday things and just about everything in my existence.
Weirdly, on the outside, I attempted to portray this super laid back attitude of a person who didn’t give two shits about anything. I’m not sure how successful I was at that, but underneath I was a wreck. Shits were secretly given in all areas and directions.
What this created was what I lovingly like to refer to as an ‘inner shit storm’. Always full of worry, panic and anxiety about whether all this stuff I gave two shits about was actually going to work out. Regardless of what happened, I would keep on making up more stuff to give a shit about and was never able to actually sit back and just be at peace with everything.
The Pursuit of Meaning
After a while, this gets exhausting. It’s like trying to balance a multitude of spinning plates and not allowing any of them to even slightly wobble for fear that life will just come crashing down around us.
We all do this to some extent, though. Some may attempt to manage more plates than others, but we all have at least a few that we give a couple of shits about.
It all comes down to our natural human instinct to derive meaning from our lives. There’s a lot to contemplate with all this ‘existing’ we do and we just desperately want it all to actually mean something. So we look for this everywhere and anywhere we can. Unfortunately for many of our unsuspecting minds and souls, that includes attaching meaning to a lot of what could be otherwise seen as seemingly irrelevant stuff.
The success of the business. The promotion at work. Getting that postgrad degree. It all only means something because we decided to attach meaning to it. Even something like our family only means something to us because we attach meaning to it.
In other words, we give two shits because we decide, whether consciously or subconsciously, that something is worth giving two shits about.
Of course, I’m not saying attaching meaning to things is neither good nor bad. Many would argue that one’s family is a pretty good thing to give two shits about.
But it’s also very powerful and enlightening to understand that somewhere along the line with all the things we give two shits about there was a decision made on some level to actually start giving two shits about that thing. Because when we understand that there was a decision made, we open ourselves up to the potential for making another decision to then detach that meaning.
I suppose this is an upmarket way of saying that meaning doesn’t have to be dictated to us by society if we don’t want it to. If we want to, we get to breakthrough this bullshit conditioning and decide on an individual basis what really matters to us in every aspect of life. It brings about a new version of an age-old question: To give two shits or to not give two shits?
Making Meaning Work
Like I said, it’s not that attaching meaning to anything, everything or nothing is inherently good or bad. But understanding the concept and being aware that it’s going on allows us to evaluate whether attaching meaning to a particular ‘thing’ is actually serving us in the most optimal way.
Take your trip to the local coffee shop for your Friday mid-morning treat of a chocolate covered croissant, for example. You’ve been full of office stress all week and now you get to enjoy that heavenly French bakery taste to just provide some light release. Only, you get to the counter to discover a very apologetic manager explaining how he made an error with the orders and so no croissants were delivered today.
This is just totally unacceptable! You give the manager a piece of your mind, which if you’re British, like me, comes out sounding more like a gritted teeth apology. But you leave the shop, realise it’s just a fucking croissant and get over it. You rather easily detached the meaning you had originally placed there and decided you actually don’t give two shits.
It’s a pretty simple process to let go of the meaning in a situation like this, so let’s look a little bit deeper and consider why you spent that whole week stressed at work in the first place. More than likely, it was stuff like deadlines, meetings, pressure from the boss, etc. In other words, the desire to both progress (get promoted) and not regress (get fired).
When all’s said and done, though, does it really matter? In my experience, most people want to be ‘successful’, but also lead peaceful and joyful lives as well. So does it serve us to attach so much importance and meaning to things like this?
I used to get so wrapped up in all the shit going on in life that I forgot to see the bigger picture. When I zoomed out and took a bird’s eye view of my life, I could see that all the stuff I worried about and attached so much meaning to just didn’t actually matter that much.
Yes, I want to progress, achieve things and make an impact in the world. But at the expense of my own inner peace and happiness? No chance. Because that, ironically, is the main thing I actually give two shits about!
So choosing to take a zoomed out view of our lives and breaking that attachment of meaning we have in so many areas, even the ‘important things’, can actually serve us so much better in the long run.
Dealing with Judgement
The theory behind all this appeals to most people. It all sounds so wonderfully zen and idealistic to stop ourselves giving two shits about as much as possible. Yet when it comes to applying the principle, it gets a little trickier.
“Wait,” I hear you thinking. “You mean I have to actually stop giving two shits about this and that?” Well, no, not really. Nobody has to do anything. That’s kind of the point. I’m not telling you where to place your shits. Just that you have a choice about where and in what number you get to place them.
The main stumbling block I found in all this, however, tends to be the fear of judgment. Or more specifically, the fear of not receiving the judgment we would like.
When I first considered the idea of severely reducing the number of shits I gave across a variety of life areas, it sounded amazing. Then I thought about what everyone else would think if I were to actually follow through and do it. And it scared the hell out of me.
What would ‘they’ think if I didn’t hold down a secure job? What would ‘they’ think if it all went wrong and I couldn’t afford to live in a particular area anymore? What would ‘they’ think if I stopped caring about many of the things ‘they’ seemed to care about so much?
Unless you’re a sociopath, the truth is that it’s impossible not to care what people think. We have a mammalian brain that’s largely responsible for us seeking out connection and not wanting us to do anything to risk being exiled from the various ‘tribes’ in our lives.
So not wanting to be judged negatively is a subconscious desire of the brain in order to maintain a place in a tribe and, therefore, keep us safe. But simply being aware of this can help us appreciate that breaking free from a tribe and ‘going it alone’ is no longer such a big risk to survival, as it would have been at certain points in history.
Finding new ‘tribes’ of people who are aligned with what we, as individuals, want is a much better way to go. This way, we satisfy the subconscious ‘tribe seeking’ part of the brain while still self-actualising and living in line with how we want to live.
So receiving judgment we don’t want from others happens. But the judgment belongs to that person, not us. It’s theirs, not ours. And we get to decide whether we want to react to that judgment in a way that serves them and their beliefs, or us and our desires.
It will be a work in progress. But simply understanding this concept was hugely powerful for me and my ability to start giving fewer shits in life.
The Paradox of Shit Giving
There is, I’ve found, an annoying irony in all this, which is the creation of a kind of ‘shit giving paradox’. It seems that the fewer shits we give about something, the happier and more content with it, and life in general, we are.
I suppose this is just one way the universe likes to kick us in the balls. We can spend a lifetime giving a multitude of shits about everything and anything and still have all this inner turmoil and frustration.
Surely, if you care so much about all this stuff then you deserve to experience success, contentment, joy and fulfillment in return. It’s not impossible, of course. Many people throughout history have done just fine without reading my ramble here, or something similar.
But, from personal experience and seeing it with others, working towards giving fewer shits about all the stuff we believe to be so important in life appears to be a master stroke of zen-ness.
After all, life is about a lot more than just counting the number shits we’re able to give.