Many, many years ago when I was fleetingly engaged to be married I was introduced to my fiancé’s extended family members one of whom was especially peculiar. I cannot recall either his name (it may have been Stanley) or his relationship (he may have been the widower of a relative). What I do recall with some certainty was that he was on his own, one of those chaps who gets invited more out of sympathy than anything else. I suppose in those days (now over forty years ago) men hadn’t learned to do anything for themselves in the kitchen so when the opportunity arose for a prepared meal they were invited along.
Anyway what matters about Stanley (I believe that really was his name) is that he was as quaint as his name. There was more than a hint of tender quirkiness about him. I thought that Stanley was holding back, that there was more to him than he cared to share with others. He was exceedingly shy, I can’t remember a thing he ever said – other than, “Very tasty indeed!” which was his sole utterance at table. At the time I dismissed the repetitive lack of novelty as indicative of mental distress, imagining that for lack of anything better he simply resorted to that stock comment. Today I am not so sure. I am beginning to think Stanley just didn’t give a damn! And that makes him both unusual and entertaining, even mildly intriguing.
Adopting a disposition of nonchalance is to my thinking enviable. While it is normally a description of someone who is calm and relaxed – perhaps the more daring state of blasé – I had the distinct sensation that in Stanley’s case it was a case of being indifferent and dispassionate or if you prefer something more international – insouciant. That is, there was a strong feature of disregard to Stanley’s otherwise quiet demeanour. What redeems his attitude is that it hadn’t the appearance of mere indifference but rather that he had consciously turned a blind eye. This imbued the condition with elevating logic. I fashioned that he had reasoned his way to blissful ignorance of life’s annoyances; that he had resolved to remain unperturbed by the ripples of life’s experiences. Admittedly there lingers the possibility that Stanley was merely detached and no more stable than someone wired to lithium but nonetheless his conduct stands as a model of behaviour. It is equally possible that he not only snapped his fingers at the world but also gave the finger to the world!
Telling the world to get stuffed is an etiquette not normally urged upon others. Instead we’re encouraged to accommodate what annoys. To be entirely honest it frequently coincides with deceit; that is, the adaptation is designed initially to disguise our disapproval (though it may simply stall the instinctive response in favour of more diplomatic posture). Whatever the stratagem it ignores the very real preference for blunt rejection. Yet because of our overriding pragmatic nature we’re generally disinclined to give rein to that alternative.
I have lately discovered that there is a more compelling reason for brushing off the world. As long as you give your attention to the world, you’re ignoring yourself. I concede that there may be practical advantage to the former but the world is a jealous mistress and requires uncompromising attention. The only loser if any will be you. It is at least theoretically conceivable that the drummer whose beat you’ll be certain to comprehend is your own; anything else is both whimsical and risky. Perhaps the greatest advantage of flouting the external tempo is that it eliminates the yearning to rationalize it, frequently a tiresome and utterly fruitless exercise. Turning one’s attention inward vaporizes a great deal of consternation. Besides it has to matter that it is one’s own thoughts which are being assessed; if there is any fault to be found it is surely better to correct one’s own errors before wasting time on perfecting the universe. In that respect it is a tactic of elimination, always a good strategy in most struggles. And one avoids the need to evaluate what in any event is beyond control. It thus simplifies life. And that has to be a good thing.