Of all the fads that have graced the business bookshelves over the years, my least favourites are those books advising me not to give a f**k. This is because, in my opinion, we live in communities, and indeed, on a planet, which requires us all to give more of a f**K.
True volunteers are getting hard to recruit, charity giving is falling and many service organisations are probably going to wither and die. When I was a kid, the Lions, Rotary, and Apex clubs did so many things to improve lives locally and globally. Their demise is our collective loss. At the same time, narcissism is rising, and virtue signalling is being confused for positive action. Do we really need to see indifference packaged up in a book and sold as a useful coping strategy?
In one meeting, a colleague pushed The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F**k across the table to me and assured me it was life changing. He has now retired and relocated to a country town. I wonder how this philosophy is serving him, because I know a little about living in the country. Everyone knows everyone, and people are quick to notice those who take rather than give. The old advice for making a success of such a move, is to make some effort to join in, and then people will reciprocate. How will this sit with his mantra of not giving a f**k?
Another colleague forwarded a clip about this, with a degree of excitement, and thought I’d find it helpful. The speaker felt that it was empowering to decline invitations and disconnect from social ties, because she only had so many f**ks to give. I wondered about the speaker, and her new-found acolyte sitting near me, and whether someone might check in on them in about ten years-time.
In my volunteer life, I encounter the problem of social isolation and the epidemic of loneliness that modern life is fuelling. It often astounds me that in Australia, the lucky country, a culture that prides itself on being so maty, a very large number of people have absolutely no-one to talk to, and no-one who would notice their disappearance. They’re not living in caves. They exist in suburbia, apartment blocks and probably in every street.
Please don’t get me wrong. I would never promote martyrdom and suggest we care deeply about everyone we meet. I think we need to exercise good judgement and we should think about where we invest our time – life is short, after all. But how many bridges can you burn before it starts to get a bit lonely? We are social creatures and isolating ourselves (or overdosing on ‘me time’) is unlikely to be a good recipe for our own mental health or basic survival.
In contrast, I loved reading Bill Bailey’s Remarkable Guide to Happiness. Bill Bailey has chosen to write with humour and decency about finding simple things that produce positive feelings.
He refers to the UN’s World Happiness Report, which has six main criteria on which it judges its findings. One, he writes, is almost shocking in its simplicity. It is having someone you can count on. And having someone you can count on, probably starts with being someone who can be counted on. Behaviour Breeds Behaviour. The conclusion? A bit of kindness, and being neighbourly, is a win-win for our communities and ultimately for our own lives.
I found so many things in this book to be genuinely uplifting. Bill Bailey could have just been funny, or cynical or wacky. He chose to do something else and wrote this book. I’m just glad that he gave a f**k.