At the end of a failed relationship, parting from a man who turned out to be so sad I couldn't reach him, I'm meditating on the teenage shibboleth "whatever." When I had new young teenagers, I was annihilated by this chilly retort.
Whatever, in its slang form, can be defined as an expression of tacit agreement, indifference, begrudging compliance or even a dismissal.
Mother: "You should try the vegetables."
Friend 1: "I'd listen to my advice if I were you."
Friend 2: "Whatever."
Boss: "You are fired!"
Wife: "Want to have sex?"
It is used as a powerful conversational blocking tool. In the above examples, the first speaker is left without a convincing retort. Anything they do or say can simply be blocked by the retort of "whatever".
A thirteen-year-old who responds "whatever" to unwelcome input is notifying the speaker: "Powerless as I may seem, my mind is free and, have no doubt, it disdains you and your unwelcome input. You may get your way, but you have not moved me. You can't reach me."
After years of having my nerve endings frizzled by this acidic retort I realized it could have a more benign use: Yes, we are often powerless, we are usually completely unable to control other people's actions and reactions and sometimes even our own; we are unable to control the weather, the stock market, the number of people who come to a concert... the list is limitless. In fact, the number of things we actually can control is vanishingly small.
We can try to react peaceably to this irritating state of affairs. We can try to be OK with whatever comes along.
You're invested in a certain outcome, and -- despite your constructive or desperate efforts -- you don't achieve it; the primal reaction is perhaps frustration, misery, maybe anger.
To avoid these painful feelings, face disappointment without fear. Disappointment is, for many of us, a constant companion. Whatever.
When I'm disappointed, "whatever" reminds me I can be open to, and can survive, most any outcome -- and I'd better be ready to. If I'm going to risk wanting something, I better realize I often won't get it - and that had better be ok. The alternative (probably my more common choice): try not to want anything.
In 2005 I wrote about one of my favorite legends, The Crane Maiden:
"Not every story has a happy ending."
[This story is] mainly about accepting peoples' boundaries. About realizing, more generally, that it's dignified and prudent to understand and abide by the limits of good things. To be grateful for what is offered and not hanker for more.
Oyb men est nit keyn beyner, tuen nit vey di tseyner.
If you don't eat bones, your teeth won't hurt.
You could take this to mean: don't stupidly do things you know will hurt you. However, more powerfully it means: go ahead and chew bones if you want, but don't be surprised if, afterwards, your teeth hurt.
It allows me, sometimes, to "chew bones" and not be devastated when, afterwards, my teeth hurt. It lets me, sometimes, choose life, choose generosity, choose taking a chance. And as for the outcome - whatever.
Scott Peck: "Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it... Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters."