This week someone referred to me as “calm and collected.” I think she meant that I am deliberate and even tempered. Either that, or she was describing a new deodorant. In any case, I’ll take it as a compliment. The comment got me thinking about Jesuit indifference. After all, I am the product of Jesuit education and have spent years teaching at Jesuit institutions. It’s only natural that I think about indifference (not that it really matters).
Indifference in a Jesuit sense means not being inordinately attached to things, people, or experiences. The Scholastics among you will note that being ordinately attached is okay. St. Ignatius of Loyola’s “Spiritual Exercises” caution us not to get used to anything, because circumstances can change on a dime. Worldly things weigh us down, so the less we have, the better. This is good advice, but it runs counter to everything we are exposed to from Halloween through New Year’s. Think of it as the Black Pope (the Jesuit Superior General) versus Black Friday.
Indifference is wonderful, because it frees you from obsessing over possessions, whether in the form of a CD, car, publication, person, or idea. I like to think that I have lived most of my life that way, since I don’t attach much value to the things that drive most people crazy. I am not boasting by any means–far from it. It’s just that I am not interested in a lot of things and am impressed by even fewer. In fact, the last time I was truly impressed was when I saw a wooden escalator. I even made a video of it. I ask you, how could anyone not be impressed?
But there is a downside to indifference. The downside is when I become so unconcerned with things that I fail to get upset when I should. The idea here is that it is perfectly legitimate to get upset at the right time over the right thing in the right way for the right reason. So, getting annoyed by some guy running his luggage over your foot at the airport is acceptable. So, too, complaining to the guy upstairs that he should close his alligator wrestling school a little earlier in the evening. So is screaming out the window at the Mister Softee ice cream truck. Well, maybe not that last one, but you catch my drift.
As I get older, two things are taking place: (1) I go to the mat less than before. This is a function of caring less about what other people think while still being civil enough to remain in polite society, and (2) I respond pointedly when an injustice has been committed. Of course, I’m not talking huge injustices, just the occasional slight by someone holier than thou at a cocktail party, or calling the waiter’s attention to an encrusted fork at a restaurant. The universe runs on these things.
I don’t worry, either, which brings up a third point. I have given up being the CEO of my life. This runs counter to conventional/ digital wisdom, especially on Twitter, which carries posts about “branding” and consumers developing personal relationships with their products. Thanks, but I’ll remain at arm’s length with my toothpaste.
So, I am less of a CEO and more of an external consultant. I have an interest in my life, of course, but I tend not to get personally involved. I figure it’s God’s problem. “My Life, God’s Problem” would be the perfect bumper sticker for me, except I don’t have a car.
Right now the challenge consists of how to remain close enough to my life so that I can send myself a consultant’s bill on a regular basis (a retainer would be nice) without getting so close that I have to hear about all the petty things that go wrong or the slings of outrageous fortune I have to endure. Really, I don’t care. Non me ne frega niente.
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Thanks for your comment, Vic. As I reread it, I realized my point keeps changing. I’m not sure I have one anymore. That’s either enlightenment or stupidity…
Another thoughtful post, Bob. I guess I try to follow two maxims in my life, although with varying degrees of success depending on the day….
The first is the well-known “Serenity Prayer”: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things that I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
The second, from Thomas Merton, is more succinct and, frankly, has been serving me better: “There comes a time when it is no longer necessary to prove one’s point.”
I’ve been trying to prove one point or another for almost all of my 67 years; I’m finding that Merton has sown me a much easier way of life.