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The toxicity of ‘I don’t care’

What do you want for lunch? Do you mind coming into work with me tomorrow? What do you want to do on Saturday? Growing up, I always responded with a nonchalant “I don’t care” to every one of these questions thrown my way — not in a passive-aggressive or sassy tone by any means but more in a laid-back manner that satisfied my desire to be flexible. It didn’t matter if I was at the breakfast table with my parents or at school with friends, these three words became my catchphrase.

Whether it was during those elementary school days or now, I’ve always hated making situations difficult by being the outlier and stirring up even the slightest hint of confrontation. Saying “I don’t care” has been my fool-proof way of blending in with the majority and avoiding the responsibility of making decisions that affected others. However, as I’m faced with my own set of bigger questions that require more than an “I don’t care,” I’m learning that striving to be flexible and agreeable all the time isn’t necessarily doing anyone any favors. In fact, more than anything, I think it has enabled my indecisive nature.

Personally, I think there’s a spectrum of personalities when it comes to decision makers. For example, you have:

1) The overly-demanding: We all know it’s just easier to let them have their way.

2) The opinionated: They clearly know what they want and say they’re willing to compromise… but at what cost?

3) The unpredictable: Their willingness to fight for their way depends upon the topic of conversation, but they do have opinions.

4) The pleaser: They constantly change their opinion based on reading social cues and others’ opinions.

5) The easy-to-deal-with: The classic “I don’t care”-sayers, who are fine with whatever.

Of course, there’s often a fine line between some of these sectors, but I don’t think one type of person is necessarily better than another. Sure, it may vary by context, but as a self-proclaimed pleaser/easy-to-deal-with type of person, I really admire those who know what they want and can stand by their opinions.

Especially because it’s become a habit for me to avoid making decisions and expressing my preferences when around other people, I often find myself not knowing how to feel even when I’m alone. This problem has extended far past the common, everyday decisions; in fact, it has often been the root of many academic crises. I don’t know whether I truly want to be a doctor or just think that’s what others expect of me; I don’t know if I shy away from math classes here because I actually dislike the subject or because I’m afraid I’ll be the only one struggling. I don’t know if I keep convincing myself to pursue a STEM major because it’s what I want deep down or because it seems like what everyone else is doing. I am so accustomed to moving with the crowd and the norm that these personal choices that no one else can make for me are daunting.

At first, “I don’t care” was a phrase that I relied on to make situations simpler and one that didn’t think twice about. Although I used to think that it made me flexible and easy-going, I’ve realized that it has rather been the easy way out from making decisions. But having become aware of this truth, I’m actively trying to eliminate this particular string of words from my vocabulary. And I do have to say that there is quite a sense of fulfillment that comes with making a decision based entirely on personal opinion. Even when I really don’t know or don’t care, I force myself to decide based on my initial instinct and stick with it because, like most things, your natural inclination tends to be right in the long run.

 

Contact Serena Soh at sjsoh ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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