Monday, March 10, 2008


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.

From Wikipedia:

Whatever, in its slang form, can be defined as an expression of tacit agreement, indifference, begrudging compliance or even a dismissal.

Almir: "I love you so much"
Sabrina: "Whatever."

Mother: "You should try the vegetables."
Child: "Whatever."

Friend 1: "I'd listen to my advice if I were you."
Friend 2: "Whatever."

Boss: "You are fired!"
Employee: "Whatever."

Wife: "Want to have sex?"
Husband: "Whatever."

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.
I need to periodically remind myself, as I did in one of the first posts on Pratie Place, of this Yiddish proverb:
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."



At 7:17 AM, Anonymous susanlynn said...

Thank you, Melinama. That was a good message for me a read this morning. I like your thinking. It's all in the interpretation, n'est-ce pas ? Attitude is a very powerful device.

At 11:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a train of thought this post set in motion for me. My teenager-hood pre-dated the "whatever" period, but I took an inordinate satisfaction in responding to most things my parents said to me with "So?" or "So what?". They were blocked and frustrated by that response, and I never thought about the reasons why I did it until I read your post today. It strikes me that, as well as a verbal block, I was also challenging my parents, to explain things, to convince me, because as a teenager, I was becoming more skeptical of everything by the minute. And only now do I realize that my parents met those challenges very well, particularly my mother. I should thank her for that. But now, I appreciate the "whatever" response, because I am learning more and more that being frustrated at things I can't change doesn't help anyone. Sometimes I just have to walk away and leave "whatever". Thanks for the thoughtful post, Melinama.


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