Generosity doesn’t come easily when we’re young. Not giving a shit being our first form of defence in the sandpit when Matilda has the bucket we want. And so we hit Matilda over the head with a spade. First shit not given. Many more shits to come. Once we graduate into teenagers we can’t give a shit about anyone else because we’re so busy hiding the total shit we give about what everyone thinks of us.
Once working, it’s difficult to have time for others after a 60 hour week because all we give a shit about is getting those new boots we deserve and getting wasted with our friends because we deserve that shit! And then throw in addiction, obsession, infatuation, intoxication, bad habits, a well-written TV series or gym membership we need to fulfil and it’s even harder because we’re trying to sort out our own shit.
Not one tiny shit is given about children either because who has time for all that noise and you know, actual shit? The only shits given are how to be absolutely sure we’re not having children. So we take off around the world where we think we are the shit because we don’t care whether Fabio calls in the morning because we’ll never see him again.
Then, after travelling, we come home and end up giving a total shit about all those things we never gave a shit about. Like mortgages. And marriage. And second cars. And what kind of duvet cover to get.
And we wonder how we ended up like this. Shit, we say, is this it?
Because the happiest people don’t seem to be the ones getting more shit but the ones giving more of a shit about others. Like those kids we met living in the forest from really shit neighbourhoods in San Francisco.
Holy shit! Then we figure out giving a shit feels better than not giving a shit.
Giving a shit about a young hitchhiker on the side of the road feels better than driving by ignoring her. Dropping fifty cents into Umbrella Guy’s collection feels better than not giving a shit on my way to get a $5 coffee. Giving my Mum a home-made card for Mother’s Day feels better than being so busy with my own shit I forget. Doing talks to teens about body image scares the shit out of me but it feels better than wishing I had more time to get around to it. Cooking a meal for others and actually giving a shit about making something tasty feels better than serving up, you know, a shit meal. Giving my daughter a hug instead of yelling at her when she won’t choose a skirt feels better – although sometimes I forget this and lose my shit.
Then there’s the dopamine rush we get from giving a shit too. The act of giving releases dopamine in the brain; you feel better because you create a bond with the person you give a shit about. It’s a great natural high – and is also what gets released after snorting a baby arm of cocaine, however that’s not so natural.
Fortunately many clever people figured this out way before me.
That character with great facial hair, Confucius, backs it up in this video on kindness that is not shit: ‘You’re living a meaning-full life if you’re bringing out the good in others to completion’
So did the late Sir Nicholas Winton who gave so many shits I shouldn’t really put him in this post that is full of shit, out of respect.
My friend, Mike Chunn, told me that helping a wayward teen, Matt Nanai, become a successful musician felt better than playing with Split Enz at The Marquee Club – where Jimi Hendrix played! He gives a lot of shit, so much he’s got a CNZM.
Seth Godin, who’s not my friend but I would be happy if he was, gives away his birthday every year – instead of buying him a gift you can buy water for a village because it feels better than getting another shit kitchen appliance.
Another friend, Anne Bilek, fought for a pregnant immigrant to stay in New Zealand, and took it all the way to the Minister of Immigration, because, in her words, “giving a shit felt better than watching her get deported.”
And here’s the real shit – what people will remember us for is not our ability to not give a shit but our sincere ability to give a shit about whatever we really give a shit about. That’s the trick. Giving a shit about other people’s shit is what lifts us up out of our own shit. And makes us feel alive.
And that, I promise you is not bullshit.