COLUMN

A new panacea: just say So what?

Think of all the energy we can save by not getting involved. Think of all the peace of mind we can preserve by not being outraged.

CHARLES GORDON May 30 1994
COLUMN

A new panacea: just say So what?

Think of all the energy we can save by not getting involved. Think of all the peace of mind we can preserve by not being outraged.

CHARLES GORDON May 30 1994

A new panacea: just say So what?

COLUMN

ANOTHER VIEW

Think of all the energy we can save by not getting involved. Think of all the peace of mind we can preserve by not being outraged.

CHARLES GORDON

Canadians need a new national philosophy to help them overcome the prevailing national philosophy, which is the politics of disapproval. The replacement philosophy, the philosophy of indifference, can best be expressed in the following two words:

So what?

So What is an appropriate approach to take to the many small things that bug us, cause us resentment, divide us, make us argue with each other, waste our energies and generally make ourselves miserable. So What is a way of saying that we are not going to let these little things, disagreeable though they may be, ruin our lives, that there are more important things to worry about, more important things to do than worry.

Canadians, for some reason, perhaps because it is too cold to go outdoors much of the time, are a judgmental people. We spend a lot of time judging each other. It is no accident that our best international sport is figure skating, a competition in which the role of the judge is pivotal. Helped by our news media, we continually find things to offend us, and the fact that not all of them are any of our business does nothing to diminish our indignation. As a result, we are grouchy, intolerant and don’t seem to have the time to do anything positive.

A case in point—not the only one, but one that happens to be in the news at the moment. The Writers Union of Canada is running a conference in Vancouver in late June and early July, called Writing Through Race. Although much of the conference is open to the public, some workshops are open only to members of visible minorities.

Wrong, right? Of course. The arguments have been raging for several months now and everybody has had a say. The arguments in favor of limiting attendance to nonwhites are familiar. So are the arguments against it. Everything has been said. Except for one thing:

So what?

Yet it is So What that must be at the core of our new national philosophy if we are to survive and avoid a national nervous breakdown. Or, as the famous philosopher J. Cash once put it: “I don’t like it, but I guess things happen that way.”

You know the arguments against having a meeting limited to visible minorities. You know the arguments in favor of it. They have been passionately and endlessly expressed. Now, here are the arguments for So What:

1. So what? It’s only a conference. Nothing that mattered ever came out of a conference—at least not in this country.

2. So what? There are more important subjects to discuss. Every cultural and political commentator in the country has felt compelled to weigh in on one side or the other of the controversy. And all it is is a conference. If they ignored it they would be able to inform us on matters of greater consequence.

3. So what? We may not like what’s going on or, conversely, we may not like those who don’t like what’s going on, but that’s the way it is in a democracy. In a democracy not everybody has to think the same thing all the time. Where did we get the idea that they did?

4. So what? Think of all the energy we can save by not getting involved. Think of all the peace of mind we can preserve by not letting ourselves be outraged.

And so it goes. Think of what we can accomplish if we have peace of mind. Think what we can do with the extra energy. Think of the great problems we can solve if we don’t waste our intellects on the little ones.

In the particular case at hand, think how great it would be for our country’s writers. They have been yelling at each other for some time over this one. Just the other day, Pierre Berton was yelling at some writers and they were yelling at him. What a waste of Pierre Berton’s time. If they weren’t yelling at each other, you know what writers would be doing? Writing.

Who could disagree with a philosophy— the philosophy of indifference—that gets writers to stop arguing and start writing?

Learning to say So What will not be easy for many of us. We’re too accustomed to saying other things, such as They’ve Gone Too Far This Time, or It’s A Waste of the Taxpayer’s Money, or We Are Considering Legal Action.

There is an historical precedent for So What, although we may not want to think about it too much: P. Trudeau, a Canadian philosopher with credentials almost as impressive as those of J. Cash, used to shrug when confronted with matters about which he was expected to worry. This, the bodylanguage equivalent of So What, was so unpopular with the voters that he only won four of the five federal elections he contested.

Meanwhile, problems await our judgment. New television programs await people to demand that they not be shown. And new demands that television programs not be shown await new angry replies condemning threats to freedom of expression. An entire political party, Reform, dedicated to the politics of disapproval, stands at the gates of power in Ottawa. Lately, it has proposed having the national anthem sung every Wednesday. It stands ready to disapprove those who only lip-synch. Meanwhile, Reform’s critics mass, ready to go to the barricades over excessive anthem singing.

So what? It is the only sane response.

In Ottawa, school trustees have decided to worry about children being exposed to the sun. It has been proposed that they be required to wear long sleeves and widebrimmed hats. The school trustees, confronted with the sun, could have said, So What: they have parents. People unhappy at the school trustees could have said, So What: there’s a school board election coming up. Instead, a debate raged, conducted by people who could have been cutting the grass or watching the hockey game, each a more useful pursuit.

Inevitably, normally reasonable people will be suckered into a debate on how wide the wide-brimmed hats should be. All because we forgot how to say So What. It is time to remember once again the uses of indifference.