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“I Don’t Care About Anything”

A dialogue between a hopeless person and a cheerleader.

At some point, most people ask themselves, “What’s it all mean?” And sometimes, their answer is, “Not much.”

Here’s a dialogue between two hypothetical people. One believes that nearly anyone can have a meaningful life. I’ll call that person “Max.” The other believes life has minimal meaning. I’ll call that person “Minnie.”

Perhaps their exchange might help you in your search for meaning or in accepting life’s limitations.

MAX: All of us have the potential to make a difference.

MINNIE: With 7.7 billion people on the planet, you can’t begin to move the needle.

MAX: You do what you can. That’s better than doing nothing.

MINNIE: I have trouble just getting everything done every day to survive, let alone change the world.

MAX: It doesn’t take time. It’s as little as smiling at someone.

MINNIE: I don’t feel like smiling when my world is going to pot: my parents are getting old, my job is feeling empty, and my relationships aren’t much better.

MAX: Is it really that bad?

MINNIE: What--dealing with parents who can no longer get around and I have to deal with that shit, and it will only get worse? I get "laid off" from crappy jobs and the only thing I can find is some other crappy job? My husband and I just co-exist and my daughter is constantly proving how much she can rebel—I thought that would be a short phase. It's been years! Life sucks. Life sucks. Do you hear me?

MAX: I understand. I really do. Of course, you know that the best we can do is to try to make little fixes, one at a time so you don’t get overwhelmed. When you make a little progress, you’ll have more bandwidth to give to others.

MINNIE: But when life feels like crap, you don’t have the energy, the desire, to fix anything. I do my job, come home make some crappy dinner, and collapse in front of the TV—if my kids will let me.

MAX: Take a step back. Just look your kids or husband in the eye, be reminded of the good in them, the positive feelings for them, even if now dormant. Then, if you can, say you love them and then do the smallest thing—Put a little note in her lunchbox, brush lint from his collar. You’re making a difference. Over a lifetime, you can easily do thousands of those things. That adds up to a meaningful life.

MINNIE: Come on!-- I don't see realistic hope for improving my life enough that it's worth the effort. The benefit seems trivial given the amount of effort it takes to just get through the day without forcing myself to smile and be nice. And to this point, I’m healthy. What happens when the inevitable shit hits the fan: I develop a bad back or I get some horrible disease that most of us die from?

MAX: Looking ahead to a bad future only poisons the good you have now. I know it’s a cliché but you must live in the moment and try to do the most you can for others.

MINNIE: What about me?

MAX: Ironically, the more you do for others, the better you’ll feel about your own life—I swear. It releases dopamine and besides, even though I'm an atheist, the Bible is right when it says it’s better to give than to receive.

MINNIE: In the past, I have given and given and most people don’t give back. It feels crappy.

MAX: You can’t give in the hopes of reciprocity. People are too-often selfish. You must give for its own sake. Take pleasure in the act of giving itself.

MINNIE: Max, I’m resisting your pontification.

MAX: I’m sorry. Is there anything in our discussion of possible value?

MINNIE: (Sighs and reluctantly says) I guess it can’t hurt to try tiny things—like the smile and the lint.

MAX: And that will build momentum. The more you give, the more you’ll want to give.

MINNIE: Again with the pontification?!

MAX: I’m sorry. So how can I be of help?

MINNIE: I don't know. Just listen to me?

MAX: How confident are you that'll help?

MINNIE: I'm not. I've talked about it forever. It makes me more depressed. There are no real answers.

MAX: Maybe there are?

MINNIE: Maybe. Some other time, Max.