The Dangers of Being An Apathetic Writer

Editor’s Note: the original version of this article was first posted on the C2C in 2010.

There’s a song in the musical Cabaret, where an old landlord during the rise of Hitler’s Germany sings a song entitled, of all things, “Who Cares? So What?” It isn’t one of the best songs musically in the whole play, for most it’s not the most memorable, but I’ve always thought the simple lyrics to be very powerful. On the surface, the song is meant to be slightly humorous and ironic but the words seem to point to one of the deepest challenges of mankind: apathy.

“For the sun will rise
And the moon will set
And you learn how to settle
For what you get.
It will all go on if we’re here or not
So who cares? So what?
So who cares? So what?”

In the course of the very short and simple song, the landlord, Fräulein Schneider, manages to go through the complete memoirs of her own fascinating life, and then throws her entire life to the gutter with the chorus: So what? Hitler’s taking over the world, there’s genocide, there’s a World War. So what?

Her So What? leads her to do nothing and to discount her life as totally ineffectual. It’s something I think we all tend to do from time to time.

The Dangers of Being An Apathetic Writer

I know I’m guilty of falling into the So What? trap every once in a while. You spend all this time writing and inevitably you think: “Well who cares if I even finish this really? Who’s going to read it besides close friends and family? Is writing a novel going to really save anyone? Is writing a blog really that important? Would anyone really care if I keep it up?”

It’s not good, I admit it. It begins a vicious spiral that I try to stamp out as fast as I can. So What? Seems innocent enough, but it is a direct challenge to what’s important in life, and quickly sabotages any action to make things better, or at least to try. So What? Seems to imply that someone up there thinks the same way. God’s like:  So what? Even if God thinks your life, or what you are doing IS important, everyone else out there (i.e. other people) don’t think so. Society’s like: So what? Or your friends are like: So what? Or your family is like:  So what? Or your co-workers are like: So what?

Every time someone doesn’t take the time to listen to you, doesn’t take what you are doing seriously, doesn’t try to understand that yes what you are doing is important and it would be helpful if you came at them with some slight interest, then what you are getting is:  So What? And So what? spreads like a wildfire. Suddenly you’re saying So What? about your own life, and the time and energy you are spending on what you are doing.  Then, suddenly, you’re saying So What? to other people’s projects and endeavors, until it consumes the world, until finally you’re an old lady, and Hitler’s Nazi’s are invading, and instead of helping the jews, or fleeing the country, your staying put and singing:

So who cares? So what?
So who cares? So what?

Woah. How did that happen?  That is the danger of So What? It’s apathy. Indifference to the world. It’s more than just indifference, it’s looking at everything as useless, almost silly, insignificant, fleeting, of little or no importance.  Not worth trying. Not worth doing. Worthless. Your worthless. It’s all worthless. That’s where that So What? is headed towards.

How to Avoid Apathy At All Costs

If you’re on a project that requires your focus and energy, avoid So What? as much as possible. Don’t even pick up the first So What? because it has a tendency to infect and multiply. And, please please don’t pass So What? on. It isn’t true and it isn’t fair.

Because the work we do does matter, maybe not to society, maybe not to the people around us, but certainly it matters to us. It’s important to us and that’s all the reason we need to say:

Who cares? I do. So what? So that my life can mean something. So that others, with my help, can find fulfillment and meaning as well.

I chose not to stay put and say So What? I chose to do. I chose to create. I chose to share my thoughts. I chose to take big risks, fail, and get back up again. My life is a big deal and so is yours. Don’t shortchange yourself.

much love,

Ollin

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24 comments on “The Dangers of Being An Apathetic Writer

  1. Conor Ebbs says:

    Hey Ollin,

    Thanks for the reminder. I needed to hear this. Tiredness restrains my reason and I’ve been ‘so what’ – ing quite a bit of late.

    Apathy means stagnation, personally and collectively. We did not explode into being to wax and wane, but to burn brightly.

    Carry on Sir.

    Conor

    • Ollin says:

      “We did not explode into being to wax and wane, but to burn brightly.”

      Now that, my sir, is why your one of my guests in August. Can’t wait.

  2. Tonia Marie Houston says:

    Thank you, again, Ollin. Do many writers feel, from time to time, that they are surrounded by a wall of “so what’s?”. I have wonderful family and friends, but as a writer who has only earned $30 doing what I love most, and a mother of three children, I take what I can get when it comes to small encouragements. When the “so whats?” hit me from all sides, I remember that an article I had written connected with a reader, that this unknown reader printed the article and posted it on her mirror, that it made her feel better about herself. The connection we may have with readers is a valuable weapon against apathy. And you, Ollin, have mastered this. Props to you!

  3. Ollin,

    I love the way you take one small but potent idea and expand upon it for us. I believe that every thought, word, and actions is part of our personal evolutionary process. Therefore, there can be no “so what.” Even if the world blows up tomorrow or the planet falls in a black hole, it’s still important for me to act with integrity. This is an excellent reminder not to fall into the “so what” trap.

    • Ollin says:

      It’s a simple idea, but it is still a challenging one isn’t it? We all feel so small and ineffectual, but we really have to not let that feeling get to us. In the end, we are all a very big deal. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Sandra!

  4. I frequently get into the so what ruts. I try to read positive words by others to keep me going when I don’t get enough positive feedback from my blog readers.http://goingtogermany.wordpress.com

  5. Christina says:

    Can we have this as a billboard? Please??

    It would help everyone!

  6. Again you have inspired. I will keep writing. Thank you I needed to hear this today.

  7. karenselliott says:

    At times, I too wonder, “So what?” but it is normally short-lived. There are times I think what I’ve written is totally awesome and nobody even notices, or when I write a fab story and it doesn’t get picked up by any magazine … But then I remember I’m really writing because it’s what I love to do, it’s what I’ve always wanted. If even just a few people notice and say, “Wow!” – yes, that’s nice. Another great blog, Ollin.

  8. Connor @ Citiesofthemind.org says:

    Ollin,

    Of the many possible adjectives one could affix to your character, apathy is not one of the.

    Connor

    • Ollin says:

      Why thank you, Connor! This is an old post, so I don’t feel the same way anymore. Apathy is not really a problem for me at the moment, my problem I guess is trying to do everything like I used to. I’m getting more and more responsibilities as time goes on.

  9. cdyard says:

    I’m afraid to say it but… I’m guilty: so many times have I said “So, what?”. But I’m not alone, now. There’s a community out there. So if I let go one day, I can start again the next day. Thanks for reminding me that.

  10. Ollin, Another inspirational post with a powerful message because we all have slumps from time to time. It is too easy to fall into this trap when I’m tired or frustrated with what I perceive to be my lack of progress. So, in the words of Winston Churchill, “Never, never,never give up hope”
    I have to remind myself of that especially since “hope matters “is the main theme of my memoir-in-progress.:-)

    Thanks for the reminder

    Kathy

    PS- I like Christina’s suggestion about the billboard!

  11. Found this interesting title on the comment thread of Make a Living Writing. Really enjoyed your post.

  12. Tammy says:

    I put a sticky note on my computer that says, “if not you, than who?” That drives away the “so what” for me.

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