*This post was originally written on July 24, 2017 on a different blogging platform. I’ve since made the decision to move to WordPress and am bringing those early posts here for continuity.
A bit of backstory:
My partner D came home from work last week and mentioned that one of his coworkers, a friend of ours, recently decided to read this book. I made a joke that he should convince said friend to do a book report on the subject. Then it was suggested to me at an appointment that I should read it, and I decided to do one myself. I think I’d like to turn this into an occasional thing, along the lines of keeping an annotated bibliography in case I do venture into the PhD world on this subject, but also in case anyone else is thinking of reading what I’ve been reading. I enjoy talking about books, whether I agree with them or not. As such, comments are welcome. Here goes!
Book Report: The Life-changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck
Little, Brown and Company, New York, 2015
Anyone who knows me knows that I swear a fair amount. Despite the frequency, it’s intended more as emphasis or a placeholder for bewilderment rather than as crassness or noise and as a result I find I don’t catch too much shit for it, even when it pops out in situations where it’s perhaps not quite appropriate. It’s common enough that I don’t really notice I am doing it until I am around children and get reminded that I should attempt to prevent them from picking such words up given that they are adorable linguistic sponges. Not going to lie, the title of Sarah Knight’s book, “The Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck” appealed to me simply because the word “Fuck” was present and it was labeled as “A Practical Parody”. After reading a number of articles that cite research indicating that people who swear are more honest, are perhaps smarter, etc., I was curious about what the intersection of swearing and self-help looked like. If you’re more interested in a condensed version, Knight gave a TED talk on the contents of her book and you can see it here.
Turns out, it looks like frank advice and humour. I am part of the target demographic for this book in the same way that people who feel oppressed by the contents of their home are the intended audience for this book’s inspiration, “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo. I give far too many fucks about far too many things. I know this and I am currently addressing it (among other things) in therapy. Some of the things I give fucks about aren’t covered in this book and the therapy is valuable for tackling them; however, most things are and the method that Sarah Knight outlines is pretty effective and easily adapted for areas that aren’t covered directly. I think it’s a great resource for those who don’t need* or can’t afford** therapy. I am going to try to review the book without giving away the whole thing, because you should read it for yourself if intrigued.
The book is divided into four chapters and each chapter focuses on one aspect of Knight’s strategy:
The first chapter outlines her theory about what fucks are, why we give them, why we resent giving them, and what we stand to gain by not giving them. Knight grounds how to achieve giving no/fewer/more specific fucks without becoming an asshole in the dual practices of honesty and politeness. I feel like this is a valuable lesson, as most people I know who don’t give many fucks are assholes and I don’t enjoy spending time with them (who does?). A lot of what Knight said in this chapter seemed very straightforward and even obvious to me, but given that I’ve heard similar things a few times from different sources and I am still not getting it, it’s good for me to hear it again. Sometimes it takes hearing things phrased differently a few times before you click with the message and I feel the candour got through to me in a way more earnest conversations haven’t quite.
Chapter two focuses on how to identify and separate what fucks you want to give from the fucks you don’t. List-making exercises for various areas of life along with examples from Knight’s own experiences guide the reader’s consideration. This was the chapter I found the most useful, probably because I am a nerd who likes lists and homework. Having Knight’s examples to guide the process was helpful because my initial lists were pretty general whereas hers were quite specific in some places. This made me realize that I was allowed to think of things with similar precision. That kind of permission granted by an author who wasn’t actually going to check my work and judge me allowed me to get real about some things that I’ve been avoiding thinking about. I wasn’t prepared to go for total “fuck overload” (46) as I was on a bus in public while reading, but I see how that could be simultaneously valuable and incredibly overwhelming.
Chapter three takes the information mined in chapter two and guides the reader through the process of giving no fucks accordingly. This chapter was full of some tough love, it’s-okay-to-do-this-really-just-don’t-be-an-asshole direction. Tackling ideas such as honesty and personal policies, Knight’s practicality was a solid read, firm without being elitist or bitchy. There were times where her humour and mine diverged a little, although that may be because I live under a rock when it comes to pop culture references, so I may not be getting some of the nuances.
Chapter four wraps up the book by discussing how not giving fucks changes lives. Where the rest of the book focuses on fucks you don’t want to give, this chapter delves slightly into suggestions of fucks you may want to give based on the results of Knight’s research.
I appreciated the ease of reading—blunt, humorous, and fairly unapologetic, the text is easy to get through. Perhaps too easy, as I finished it in two brief sittings which may not actually be long enough to think things through properly. Given that recognition of additional fucks surfaced as I read on, I may sit down and do the lists again when I am not on a bus with a noisy football team. One of the biggest perks of this book is the ability to read through it again and reassure myself that withholding fucks is acceptable and not selfish. I really need to stop giving fucks about feeling selfish. It’s a struggle.
This book is interesting in relation to the phenomenon of FOMO (fear of missing out), as part of it’s objective is to help people realize that they don’t have unlimited fucks to give and to teach them to allocate them accordingly. In this way, Knight’s work is quite similar to spoon theory (or spell-slot theory, if you are into RPGs), which are ways some people are explaining to others what it is like to live with ongoing illness. One area I felt was underserved in Knight’s work was some kind of primer on what kinds of things are necessary to give fucks about. While she addresses some examples of things to consider at the end of the book, I feel that her emphasis on drawing parallels between her method and Kondo’s decluttering erases some structural aspects in similar ways to the original text that Knight’s parody was based on, mainly that decluttering your home or your mental landscape is only possible to the extent that you will not need what you are getting rid of later. Critiques of Kondo’s work spoke to this directly, ranging from reminders that you sometimes need things that don’t “spark joy” to live, to reflections on minimalism as mortality, to acknowledging that this kind of de-cluttering is easier for those who can afford to replace what they may need at some future point, which means it’s less viable for those on restricted incomes. Similarly, I feel that Knight’s lighthearted parody doesn’t address the hesitation and outright anxiety that can go along with learning to not give a fuck, how to handle situations where things go poorly while you are on the learning curve, or acknowledging that there are situations where it is important to give fucks even if you don’t personally want to give fucks (i.e., medication compliance, voting, paying taxes, and the like). I realize that this book is intended as a parody rather than an actual self-help paradigm and therefore feel a bit odd about offering that criticism, but given the rave reviews of it online, I see some parallels between its content and success and how the Flying Spaghetti Monster started out as satirical commentary and was co-opted into a religion. This leads me to wondering about a creator’s responsibility to society, but that’s a subject for other posts.
I was thinking this morning about what I needed to get done today and how the majority of my list fell under the heading of “adulting“: running errands, housework, cooking, resume-writing, and such. Nothing that was really fun or even particularly interesting, but all of which are deserving of fucks because they simply need to be done in order for me to have the quality of life I want. It seems to me that there is a correlation between adulting and doing the gritty, necessary forms of self-care that aren’t often talked about, in that there seems to be a number of people exclaiming a dislike of them due to lack of instruction in how to actually do these things. I realize that I am fortunate to have been given these skills even as I am baffled that other people don’t have them—this was the root of my surprise when Knight stated repeatedly that being honest and polite were the keys to not being an asshole. I think that’s obvious, but then I look around me, particularly at the news media lately, and realize that there are a lot of people who missed those memos. In the same way that a spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down, perhaps parody and humour are effective ingredients in remedial life-skill education.
*I am pretty much of the opinion that everyone benefits from talking to an independent third party regardless of whether they think they need to or not. Just so we are clear on that.
**That shit is expensive. Worth it, but yeah. Not everyone has coins (or insurance) for that, likely one of the factors in the existence of the entire self-help industry.