Hale: What can we learn from Mikaela Shiffrin?
In case you’ve been hiding under a rock recently or maybe just don’t care, Colorado’s own Mikaela Shiffrin is about to tie Ingemar Stenmark’s record for the most World Cup ski racing wins in history.
For ski racing fans, this is epochal. In an Aspen Times article (Feb. 2) there was an interesting quote from Shiffrin that jumped out: “If I learned anything last year, it’s that these big events, they can go amazing and they can go terrible, and you’re going to survive no matter what. So I kind-of don’t care.”
In case you weren’t aware, Shiffrin did terrible in the 2022 Beijing Olympics.
To say “I don’t care” is usually not going to win you a lot of fans. It’s generally a sign of indifference, and most Americans don’t like indifference. Maybe it’s our two party system — that boils everything down to red versus blue or right versus wrong. Even if you don’t agree with ether side, you are supposed to vote — right? You’re not supposed to announce you don’t care.
It seems the greatest sin in this overly-simplified, dualistic world is not taking a side. It is commonly associated with a cold apathy if not amorality. So how is it that a world champion who’s about to break one of the most unbreakable records can say she doesn’t care?
Nagarjuna, a Buddhist philosopher of the second century AD taught a kind of indifference in the “middle way,” a path between pleasure and pain. Sometimes it’s best to not care, to let it go, to not get so worked up. Sure, you can be mad at yourself or mad at others for a bit, but what’s that going to accomplish in the long run?
Journalists have been obsessed with how Shiffrin could be so bad in last year’s Olympics and then turn around and crush it this year in World Cup competition. In my opinion, it’s not an interesting question.
Shiffrin’s simple answer has been, “You can fail and not be a failure.” That’s a great answer to an insipid question. Sometimes you have to move on, even past bad questions. Sometimes it’s best to not care.
A few weeks ago, I dropped into a church service where the minister lectured on that passage in the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus says, “You are a light upon the hill.” (Mathew 5:14)
This particular minister interpreted this as a call to arms, a call to confront the sins of (liberal) society. The issue that particular Sunday was gender affirming care — the non-binary kind — in our local public schools. With his voice rising, he dramatically asked, “What’s next? Children talked into castration and mastectomies?” I got the distinct feeling we should care.
I hear and read about these non sequiturs all the time. Moral outrage almost always entails some dubious logic.
For example, does teaching an awareness of non-binary gender orientation lead to child mutilation? You could also ask if objecting to reparations or affirmative action makes white cops want to shoot black teenagers? Or does a balanced budget mean cutting Social Security and Medicare? The list is endless. Does climate activism mean higher prices for working families? Does a refugee crisis and a porous border indicate a “grand replacement” of whites for people of color?
All of these claims entail questionable causal connections. But the media (both sides) drum that bad logic at us day in and day out. Why? It gets people to watch your newscast, buy your advertiser’s products, vote for you, contribute to your campaign, attend your church, put money in the basket, listen to your podcast, read your blog, maybe even buy your book.
Do I care? It’s hard to when working on yourself is a full-time job. I don’t have time or desire to point out other people’s supposed faults. I have plenty of my own: I get frustrated, I’m impatient, I’m irritable. I am the opposite of 1 Corinthians 13 or the Eight Fold Path. I don’t have enough chutzpah (audacity?) to go around pointing my finger at other folks and telling them what they should believe, how to think, what to do.
It smacks of throwing rocks, and I live in a house with way too much glass.
So maybe this isn’t exactly about not caring; it’s more about letting go of things that you can’t change, that aren’t important, that don’t make sense.
So if you are really worried about about the world’s problems, then try helping out. Be that person who volunteers for that thankless job, who works way harder than they are paid, who offers to help out when there is no glory in the task.
For some people, it’s about winning and losing, but as Mikaela Shiffren might tell you, its more about skiing a great race.
David Hale earned a joint Ph.D. from the University of Denver and the Iliff School of Theology in Philosophy, Religion and Cultural Theory. He is a lecturer in philosophy at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction. He lives in Snowmass, where he works full time as a contractor and lives with his wife, Susan, dog-child, Bodhi, and their cat, Black Kitty.