Too Cool to Care

    Are we all too cool to care anymore?  This question has been rolling around my mind for a couple months, like loose marbles in large empty box...  We don't care to put much effort into Christmas shopping.  OK at least I didn't this year.  We get annoyed when we have to wait for a pedestrian to cross the street.  Some of us don't care to drive reasonably safe.  We don't care to refrain from honking or flipping each other off.  We don't care if we sleep on the bus and take up two seats instead of just one.  We don't even care to genuinely care about our friends and family.

    One reason this has been on my mind has come from the unlikely source of CBS's Survivor.  (I'll pause why you chortle, snort, and guffaw.  Finished?  OK).  Poor Julie.  She cared, and she paid for it.  I think the disheartening, unsettling, and somewhat surprising statement she made at the Reunion show was something like "one thing I learned is to not care about anyone any more because it hurts too much when you get let down."  I am paraphrasing, but that is the gist.  Man, when she said that part of my little hard heart just sank.  Was this the end of her ability to care for someone, to be vulnerable to genuine human emotion?  That's terrible, I thought.  Of course it's well known that Survivor contestants lie, manipulate, and betray in order to win the game.  But beyond that, many of them seem to genuinely get along and even form friendships.  Heck, Rob and Amber even got engaged. 

    Survivor is a game to be sure, but sometimes the relationships outgrow the game and turn into something real.  Apparently this is what Julie thought she had with Chris.  As a viewer, we had no reason to fault her for thinking that.  She was his "little sister" and he was her "big brother."  But because Chris decided to break their alliance to pursue his best inertest in the game, she feels utterly betrayed.  He won the million dollars and no one blames him for doing what he did.  Still, Julie's loss of the ability to ever trust anyone, to ever actually care about someone, is perhaps almost as significant a defeat as Chris's winning the million is a triumph.  OK.  That's pretty melodramatic, but you get the point. 

    So the Julie thing continued my thinking about this.  How does it come to that?  Is such disassociation a natural and normal part of life?  At some point do we all say, "I'm out" of the caring game?  Certainly we all go through different levels of it growing up.  We want to disassociate ourselves from our parents, pretend like we don't know those dweebs hanging out at the side of the room.  Some of us even turn on old friends when they become uncool in the pursuit of cooler, more popular friends (can you tell I'm watching Thirteen now?  Sure it's a movie but I've seen it happen in real life too).  It is a step along the path towards not-caring.  It's fostering a callous to protect us from real emotions.  Because you know what?  Real emotions are real vulnerable, and can lead to real hurt.  Heck, after my little heart was broken by a girl back in high school I was much more cautious when getting emotionally involved with the dreaded female.

    Still, pain is a necessary part of life, so as we grow, most of us grow up in addition to merely growing older.  We fall in love, get married, maybe have children.  We make really close friends that we deeply care about and love.  We outgrow the super-selfish "it's all about me" philosophy and decide to live life to the fullest.  We embrace emotional relationships with our friends and family.  Most of us outgrow the impatient, egocentric worldview that places divine importance on what we want.  Sadly, some of us do not outgrow this, but experience retarded growth into a fully cognizant and decent human being.  Not only can those people not seem to care for their own family, but they certainly can't muster much patience for strangers.

      The idea of doing the uncool thing by actually caring for your fellow man is addressed in the book I'm reading, How to be Good by Nick Hornby.  It's easy to sympathize with Katie's hostility towards her husband's new-found desire to help his fellow man by giving away one of their computers, some of their children's toys, and taking in a homeless child.  It's uncomfortable.  I wouldn't like to do it.  I mean, if pressed, I might help, but I'm not volunteering for anything drastic.  I gave at the office, or something.

    And that's fine.  No one can be faulted for not taking in a strange, homeless child.  But how about giving the pedestrian a little extra space when she's crossing the street?  How about not assuming that the guy walking down the sidewalk is going to mug you?  (A favorite fear of some of my co-workers who have fearfully fled to outer-ring suburbs).  How about not cutting off a beginning snowboarder while you race inches from their board?  I don't know where I picked up it, but in the last few months I've had a phrase that occasionally comes to mind: "How about we just try to be a little nicer to each other?"  It doesn't mean we are all going to get along all the time, but how about a little basic civility?  I suppose I sound like a broken record.  This is an idea that often appears in my columns and I realize that.  I'm just saying.  Life is hard enough, even with our relatively carefree and safe Midwestern life [as I write, the mind-numbing death toll from the tsunami disaster continues to climb].  Besides, the snow and cold are coming, and you know we're all going to need a little extra braking room.  So, just be cool.  Well, not too cool.