“I dunno & I dun care” Then Why Should We?

These have become pervasive phrases. You hear them when people do not choose to express anything more than an attitude, or do anything more than make an attempt.

Such omnipresent admission of “I dunno” and “I dun care” bespeaks a culture that admits it lacks the fortitude to express convictions or make commitments.

It Starts in Simple Ways

“Wanna see a movie?”
“Yeah, maybe.”
“Which one?”
“I dunno.”
“Should I just pick one?”
“I dun care.”

“Is there something you’d rather do?”
“I dunno.”

Then why should you care?

Unless a person is exhausted from having made a series of mind-draining efforts, or has made the last ten choices for shared activities, putting no energy into a decision on what to do together says there is not much interest in the relationship. Or, maybe it is not personal – maybe there is not much effort being made across the board. Maybe that explains the inability to keep a job.

Cop-out phrases like these are what you get from the uncle who doesn’t know what the referendum is about – and doesn’t care how you think he should vote. He is not going to bother.

They are the answers you get from the neighbor who just cannot muster up the energy to deal with safety issues.

They Dominate the Dialog

They are phrases spoken in a wide variety of interactions. Listen. You will hear them when you advocate for special needs kids, or the environment, or question why people still smoke. It is also what you get from retail store clerks when you interrupt their chatting with each other to ask them a question.

People use these phrases when they do not want to put their minds into gear to do the mental work of forming an opinion, making a decision, or providing information.

When used without the context of reasonable reasons for mental fatigue, the true meaning of these phrases is often:

“I prefer not to have to form an opinion or make a decision.”

“I am not willing to make an effort to give you a thoughtful response.”

“I do not want to think about doing anything about it.”

“I am saving energy for something that motivates me more than what you are asking about.”

“I do not have the slightest interest in what we do together.”

Don’t Tell Me You “Dunno” What We Can Do About It

In my own way, I have been fighting against this symptom of low levels of effort for half a century. You can, too.

My children became highly opinionated adults*, in part because I told them when they were toddlers that if they said “I dunno,” I would take that to mean that they needed to stop what they were doing and learn about what they didn’t understand. If they said: “I dun care,” I would translate that into their saying, “I don’t care enough to make a make choice.” Therefore, I would make the choice for them. Perhaps I would decide that they would not get any treats, or that I would give them what I knew they liked least.

If what I asked them about truly did not matter to them, they would be all right with whatever I chose for them.

They learned when it did matter they needed to speak up, be heard, make a choice.
They learned to decide when to be committed to determining the outcome.

*Some would say they dunno if that is such a good thing. Therein lays a good part of the problem.


Filed under Self-Help

4 responses to ““I dunno & I dun care” Then Why Should We?

  1. Ann

    I have a hard time making decisions. For one thing I want to be sure that the other person doesn’t have a preference that they are afraid to admit. And so I get paralyzed. It’s not that I don’t care. I care too much that I try not to guess wrong. And then when I am put on the spot, I’m the deer in the headlights. When around other people with the same trouble, it gets very complicated. But I would not say I don’t care. That’s not it at all.

    • Mary

      The “dunno /don’t care” issue is a big one for many people. After 7 years of marriage I learned something very important about my husband. He is terrified of being wrong, Often we miscommunicate because he’d rather do something he doesn’t like “i don’t care” (and be unpleasant about it) than make the ‘wrong’ decision. He does indeed care deeply about what we do or the decisions we make as a family, but not enough to take a leap and maybe be wrong – unless given lots of lead time or perhaps a chance to respond via e-mail or text. Being put on the spot makes him behave like a dear in the headlights too. Ann, you’re not alone!. .

  2. Afraid and get paralyzed is the affect (emotion). It’s not safe to express an opinion, or one that is different than the other person. Often a case of losing connection(attachment) with a Parent(care giver) when our choices, actions, opinions were different than theirs. “I try not to guess wrong” from personal experience I know that their is a perceived cost for “guessing wrong” and that is playing out in the type of interactions your having leading to “get Paralyzed. Our stress responses are fight, flight, freeze(paralyzed).
    I think Kathy is taking about in teaching our kids, too care, too engage the will That if you don’t choose, someone will for you. And the way I read it, she didn’t make a big emotional deal about it, just simple actions that taught them to engage when something mattered to them and notice when things didn’t matter.

  3. DC

    I’m with Ann here. It’s not that I don’t care; it’s that I care much more about not getting kicked in the teeth. If I had a stronger sense of safety, I’d have an easier time deciding. But the cost just isn’t worth it.

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