A Unified Theory of Giving A Shit

Once in a great while, you have a singular moment so clear, so perfectly representative of everything occurring in the far flung reaches of your experience that time seems to actually stop.

This weekend at a holiday party, I had a lovely, hour-plus conversation about life, the town we live in, and foods we enjoy with a new person. When this person brought up politics (a topic I try to treat with a light touch at functions like this) and I expressed my concern about our new reality, I was told, “If you’re so unhappy with things, go live in Communist China.”

This person did not give a shit about me. I was a skin sack with an argument to be responded to inside, not a real person with lived thoughts and experiences making up my being. Nope, in that moment, I became a proxy for people you just KNOW think ill of you.

Here’s the really lame part: In that moment, I also didn’t give a shit about this person. The instinctual (and, sure, media-trained) brain kicks in an this person isn’t a complex knot of lived realities, they’re a threat. To me, to those I love, to the things in the world I value. I was done with this human, and that’s not okay.

So, on the heels of calls to both be honest about the limits of love in the face of real, actual harm and Van Jones’ inspiring call for a “Love Army” to retake the American civil landscape, I propose a slightly more tough minded approach for the day-to-day ground game. Consider it the practical application of this strategy:

*~* A Unified Theory on Giving A Shit *~*

I give a shit about other people. I’ll say it as many times as I need to in a given situation for it to be true.

I give a shit about the problems of others because it’s how the system works best. If you feel that it’s on people to find their own solutions to challenges, great. If you think people should be offered assistance as they find a path through whatever their situation might be, awesome. Congratulations, both “sides” agree on giving a shit about others. Now, let’s talk and find a solution because screaming at each other isn’t working. Neither one of us will likely get everything we want, but that’s the nature of compromise (which is one of the central tenets of the founding of our country) and by continuing to dialogue and find solutions, we’re all working towards that more perfect union.

I give a shit about those fighting to have their basic humanity recognized. Be they black or brown Americans who are too often denied basic respect and die at the hands of police 5x more frequently than their white counterparts, or white folks navigating a new world where their jobs and their communities look different (or disappear completely), I will say that Black Lives Matter AND stop using the term “flyover state.”

I give a shit about the bigger picture and the world we live in. This means I’m as outraged by the rise in violent populism in Europe as I am by ISIS/Daesh because both are a threat to democracy. Active rejection of both is not mutually exclusive and one does not excuse the other.

I give a shit about the changes happening to the climate of the planet. We can talk about the reasons it is happening, but it’s happening and I give a big, big shit about it.

I give a shit about what I’m seeing in the media. This means reading – EVERYTHING – critically. Been a subscriber to the New York Times and the Washington Post for years? Kudos. Been reading Investors Business Daily or The National Review every morning for the past decade? Brava. You still need to ask yourself who is reporting on what you are reading, who their sources are, and with what bias YOU are entering into the exchange. Oh, yeah, it’s easy to agree with an article that sounds like what I already think, but giving a shit means seeking out more.

And, while we’re at it, I give a shit about seeing different experiences and perspectives represented in the narrative media I consume. That means a wholesale shift to a more inclusive view of who’s stories get told on film and in TV and questioning the ways that they get told. Stories are how we understand the experiences of others, so let’s stop seeing the same five and start understanding how wonderfully complex and frequently messed up our world is.

It’s not always easy. It’s not always simple. It’s not done, either – We will add to this document as needed to make sure it is truly unified. But it’s wrapped up in one fundamental principal: I give a shit about you.

So, to that person who wished me away: I’m not going anywhere and even if you never give a shit about me, I give a shit about you. Let’s talk.

NOTE: The Unified Theory is a work in progress. Please reach out if something has been overlooked and accept Lexi’s apology and gratitude in advance.

Many thanks to the fantastic team at MixedMentalArts.club for their tireless work to shift the way we talk to and about each other. They have kept me sane while developing this piece and you should know their work.

Image of Earth from space courtesy of NASA.

Lexi Notabartolo