When American actor James Caan died in July of this year, I heard that his least favorite words were “I don’t care.”
Obviously, I can’t ask him to elaborate on that. But if I’m trying to take his point, I’m guessing he was aiming for “I don’t care” – as in, it is of no consequence to me. I don’t care – as in, it will fail to penetrate my reality one way or the other. I don’t care – as in, it or you are not worth getting worked up about.
But sometimes I think we take caring too far. As if we should have an opinion about everything from what kind of brands are okay to wear, the exact specifications for the type of liquor we’ll drink and whether we can only shop at boutique and artsy stores.
When I’ve mistakenly worn my opinions as some armor of sophistication, I’ve found that it’s closed me off from life. It becomes a barrier between me and experience so that I have to surmount my own expectations before I can taste curiosity.
My dad had a mantra that he used for golf, “You need to care less without being careless.” And I think it works for more than just that silly sport (sorry golf lovers). It speaks to a balance that we can create between being involved in the world without gripping too tight.
We can have opinions, beliefs and wisdom while still holding space for not knowing. It means that sometimes we can embrace our lack of control and be entirely open to what comes next. And it suggests that we can maintain a curiosity even when we think we are right.
There is one more way that I believe caring can get in our way, especially when trying to find our authentic voice. We can care too much about the opinion of others, especially in our social media age. And then what we say and what we write becomes performative instead of real. This brings to mind a quote from Mark Nepo, one of my favorite poets:
This is at once the clearest of spiritual intents and yet the hardest to stay true to: how to stay open to what others feel and not what they think. – Mark NepoTweet
So, I applaud James Caan for having a phrase that he said often enough to make it repeatable. But I have to admit, I don’t care for it.
Does this strike you in any way that makes you care to like or comment? Or do you have a favorite phrase that it reminds you of? Please share.
For more posts like this – a little story-telling mixed with philosophy, please visit my personal blog at https://wynneleon.wordpress.com or follow me on Instagram @wynneleon
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34 thoughts on “Caring Less Without Being Careless”
My latest *me* phrase is “You can ask me anything. I will tell you whatever you want to know.” I emphasize that with my adult children mostly, and the grands to help undo our former way of living and dealing with life pre-divorce. It does carry over into other relationships though. I used to be really good at skirting around a question that was too close to home, that might reveal too much or expose my very inauthentic life. That doesn’t fly anymore.
Wow, Deb – that is really brave and beautiful. What a gift you are giving your family!
Thank you Wynne. It really feels like an obligation that should have been fulfilled ages ago. I hope they can pass on our truth going forward.
I loved this: “So, I applaud James Caan for having a phrase that he said often enough to make it repeatable. But I have to admit, I don’t care for it.” You are funny!
The only contribution I can offer is this pointed reminder from my dad – to his daughter (me) who tends to be reactionary and too quick to respond. He’d say, “It’s okay to take a beat and a breath”, encouraging me to think before speaking, especially when the stakes were high. Still good advice…there are no extra points for speed, especially as you said, when offering an opinion. Thanks, Wynne! 😉
Oh, you get my sense of humor, Vicki!! Thank you!
No extra points for speed – I love it! Yes, I tend to have to slow myself down too and this is a great reminder!
xo, funny one! 😘
I love the quote from your dad! So true. If you don’t care about anything and aren’t careful, you’ll spend your whole life watching from the sidelines. But you also can’t let what others think impact everything that you do.
Yes – the balance you point out is key! We need a little of both. Thanks for commenting.
I for one deeply wish that people would stop caring so deeply about divisive topics, to the point of wishing to do harm to others who don’t hold the same opinions as them. We have come to place far too much importance on this than actually working together to resolve issues. I always find it interesting when people are willing to step down from their artillery towers and have conversations with people they consider to be “the enemy”, and then find out there isn’t the gulf of distance between them as politicians are playing them for.
Such a true comment. When we relate to each other openly, with curiosity as people who want to know other people – it works a lot better, doesn’t it?
Thanks again for another encouraging post Wynne. I believe the wisdom of your dad’s golf mantra, “You need to care less without being careless”, is applicable to whatever course we find our life on.
For far too long I lived imprisoned by the ‘Careful Bondage’ of striving to receive the approval and affirmation of others in lieu of enjoying the exuberant freedom of the unique ‘Careless Joy’ available to each beloved Abba’s child.
He loves us unconditionally ‘As-Is’, not defined by the ‘Should Be’ parameters of others.
“enjoying the exuberant freedom of the unique ‘careless joy’ available – I think that should be your bumper sticker, Fred! I love it!! Thank you.
Your essay, Wynne, lead to Tamara’s always thoughtful comments and I’ll add on to what she said. As I view life, one must decide how many battles to fight. There are more available now than ever. We will drain ourselves to nothingness if we take on every one worth fighting.
One of things therapists must learn is to live and die with every patient’s woes — a guarantee for burnout. And then, having burned out or overspend your limited energy, there is nothing left you going forward, not only professionally.
Dr Stein – what an interesting perspective of the therapist – the need to care for patients without taking on their mantel. It seems like a great application of “you need to careless without being careless” if I have that right.
When I say ‘I don’t care.’, it usually means I care very, very much, and when others say they don’t care, they’re fooling no-one. I love your dad’s mantra. Great post Wynne. Thank you.
Oh that is such an interesting truth behind the “I don’t care,” Sue! Right, no one’s fooling anyone. Thanks for adding that to the thread and for your kind words!
Your dad’s quote is very inspiring. Though, I would never use the Italian translation for “I don’t care” as it reminds me of dark times of our history, fascism, especially now the extreme right is governing in Italy. In any case, it’s a great post Wynne!
I love getting your nuanced language take on these things, Cristiana. I can see why you wouldn’t want to use that phrase in that case. Thanks for reading and commenting!
“You need to care less without being careless.” Your father was one smart man, with so much wise advice! I am so pleased you are sharing his inspiration with us all, thank you!!!!!
Thank you, Mary!
Lovely post, Wynne.
We had just moved to the USA when I my daughter’s high school friend reply, “I don’t care.” To my question, “Would you like a glass of orange juice or a can of coke?” I was somewhat offended because “I cared too much” about getting a sensible/polite reply from a youngster!
Until a few of “I don’t care” replies later, I realized that it meant “I have no preference, or either will do!” However, I still find that reply unacceptable.
What an interesting story – and reflection of the meaning behind the words and reactions from both of you. Yes, that reply is hard because then it means we have to choose for someone else, doesn’t it?
Funnily enough, my daughter’s friend (who became our close family friend) and I worked out what her answer should be for me to understand. And, we lived happily ever after! But, she took every opportunity to tease me with, “I don’t care! ”
I love your wise and loving father’s advice the best, “You need to care less without being careless.”
I love that it became a joke for you two, Chaya! What a great story and history!! 🙂 <3
I loved everything about this, and especially this phrase,
“We can have opinions, beliefs and wisdom while still holding space for not knowing. It means that sometimes we can embrace our lack of control and be entirely open to what comes next. And it suggests that we can maintain a curiosity even when we think we are right.”
By the way, I think also that mentality is part of why I enjoy your posts, along with everyone in this group so much. You’re obviously a diverse group, and I’m sure you all have differing fundamental beliefs on some things, but there’s a commonality in terms of empathy, being the best human being one can be, and remaining curious. At least that’s my take on it, and as a reader, it’s wonderfully refreshing! Thank you, Wynne, for another fabulous post! 🤍
Kendra – you are a delight and I think stand out as an example of so much of what is good in community. When we can be a diverse group, have differing beliefs and be empathetic, curious and striving to be our best. It’s so lovely — and it’s fun, isn’t it? Thanks for reading and for this wonderful comment!
Such a nice comment, Wynne! Thank you so much! 😘
Beautifully worded comment!
Love it and agree wholeheartedly with, “You’re obviously a diverse group, and I’m sure you all have differing fundamental beliefs on some things, but there’s a commonality in terms of empathy, being the best human being one can be, and remaining curious.”
It’s a joy to read from this group, isn’t it (no pun intended when it comes to the name of Wynne’s site).
Also, I was reading your earlier comment and smiling, because my husband does that sometimes. And he’s not new to America. 🤦🏼♀️ I always want to say, “Yes or no, dear.” 😄
I love this post! You really can’t care about everything and trying will destroy you. In high school, both of my kids struggled with that. Between school , the world and life in general, it was hard for them to learn that not caring can be good, and to decide what to care about- and then how to care about it.
Ooh, I love that you added the dimension of deciding what to care about and HOW to do it. A really good point – and lesson from your kids. I’m sure they had wonderful help from you and your wife to guide them along. Thanks, Todd!
We had our moments- good and bad 😁
Nice post and the title is incredible. I have to add that sometimes in life you should not give a damn what other people say about you but don’t be reckless or brutal such as yelling thus the I don’t care without being careless