I am indebted to Mary Murray who inspired this conversation, and to
Charles "Raz" Ingrasci and to Jack Rafferty who contributed material.
Over the course of many years from my teen years until now, I've
heard it on three different occasions. When I say I've
heard it on three different occasions, I mean I've gotten
it differently each time on three different occasions. On each
occasion, what I've gotten was an expansion of its impact
from the previous occasion, a deeper appreciation of it
than on the previous occasion, an exponential acceleration
of its power from the previous occasion.
The first time I heard it, I heard invalidation, ridicule,
taunting, and teasing. The second time I heard it, it stopped me dead
in my tracks like a
creeping up silently behind me giving me a terrific blow on my shoulder
- with a wooden broadsword. My mind spun. There was
something profound to get - this I could tell immediately,
intuitively ... but what it was exactly, I couldn't articulate. It
wasn't for another nine years after that, before I would gather any
for it, within and from which I could appreciate its potency for the
third time in its entirety.
"So What" Like "Shut Up!"
When I was a teenager and attending
was an all boys
We all wore the same uniform. We were all white (that was
for you in those days). For the most part,
was a good experience for me. It imparted a great education, modeled as
it was after the English public school system. Some boys, the same as
you would find in just about any high school I suppose, were prone to
bragging and boasting. It ranged from the sinister schoolboy-ish "I can
beat you up with one hand behind my back" to the challenging "I can run
the hundred (ie the hundred yards sprint) faster than you"
to the classic "My Dad is richer than your Dad.".
In all such cases, the ultimate put down of braggarts and boasters was
a resounding chorus from all boys within earshot, of "So
what?!". It was deadly effective. It shut the braggarts and the
boasters up immediately. "So what?!" in this sense invalidated,
ridiculed, taunted, and teased them. It made them a laughing stock and
got them to shut up and be
Schoolboy mission accomplished.
That's the first time I heard it. That's how "So what?!" first entered
my vocabulary, taking on the meaning "Shut up, be
your input is ridiculous, it doesn't matter ... and ...
it's unwanted.". The ultimate put down.
I'm in my third year of college - the beginning of my twenties. I've
got a lot going on. There's a lot on my mind. There's managing the
intensity of the college study schedule. There's my relationship with
There's my relationship with
It seems that at this age, all relationships come into
question. It's a very unsettled time. There's a
I trust, an older woman whom I approach and ask if she'll go for coffee
with me to talk. I tell her I've got a lot on my mind and I'd
appreciate her input.
She not only agrees: she offers a better suggestion than merely coffee.
don't we go for a walk on
instead? More than that,
don't we go for a walk on
the beachat sunrise ie get there before dawn, walk, talk, and watch
the sun rise? What a great idea.
I pick her up very early in the first car I ever owned (a 1962 Chrysler
Simca 1000 aka "Mille" which I bought from my
and we drive to
It's dark when we arrive but not too dark to see. We park, and soon
we're walking along the water's edge and I'm talking.
I tell her everything - this, that, the other, about my studies, about
everything. It all comes out. I'm animated. I'm relieved to get it all
off my chest. The sun starts its
rise but I don't even notice. I've got a
point of view
about everyone and everything, and I'm too engrossed in it to notice
Finally about a half an hour after I start gabbing (it probably sounded
to her like one single sentence punctuated by neither
comma nor period - you know, one of those marathons), I dry up. I've
said everything I have to say. There's nothing left. Nothing has
changed, although for the first time in a long time I really do feel
I've gotten a load off my chest. And in synch with the dwindling
coming out of my mouth, I'm / we're walking slower and slower and
slower till eventually I / we come to a stop.
I look over to my
She's not saying anything. So I say to her tentatively "... well?". She
looks back at me and says nothing. I wait. Still she says nothing. I
gesture with my head, raising my eyebrows - a silent "...
well?" this time, if you will. Then she speaks. And what she says is
It takes me completely by surprise. I'm Charlie Brown
lying flat on my back after Lucy whips the football away.
"Wh-wh-what???!!!" I think, trying to speak but my
thoughts suddenly have no traction. "She said 'So What?!'"
I say to myself, mortified. Given my previous experience at high
school, her "So What?!" is about to envelop me in
invalidation, being ridiculed, being taunted, being teased ... when
suddenly I notice something.
What I notice is she heard everything I said. I notice she's
listening intently, raptly - even now. I notice she's looking at me
with the most open, the most kind, the most loving
expression you could ever possibly see on the face of another human
being. "Listen to the waves" she says. "Listen to the seagulls. Look at
those gorgeous colors in the sky.".
I don't know what her "So What?!" does ... but I know it does something
something I've never experienced before. She gives me no answers ...
but she gives me something. And whatever she gives me stops
my anxious thoughts cold. I notice dawn has now begun in earnest.
The sky is a
of burnished reds and oranges and blues. For the first time I can
actually hear the ocean and the seagulls. No longer is there anything
going on about my studies. No longer is there anything going on about
No longer is there anything going on about
And if there is anything going on about them, it's now
noise - kind of like the radio is still on but now it's been moved to
another room, and the volume is somehow turned down low so it's too
soft to interfere with the swooosh swooosh-ing of the waves and
the caw caw caw-ing of the seagulls right in front of me.
"Wow!" I think, "what just happened?".
What just happened is I heard "So What?!" for the second time - only
this time it's a
terrific blow on the shoulder wooden broadsword
"So What?!" rather than a schoolboy's "Shut up!" "So
which he introduced me to for the first time almost exactly nine years
to the day after that walk on
at sunrise, provided the first reliable
for what I'd experienced. It was more than that actually. It provided
clarity and certainty and therefore repeatable choice in
the matter of what I'd experienced, by differentiating between two
ways of being (if you will):
With regard to our
and being lost in the
it calls for a certain bigness to hear
"So What?!" as a compassionate call to
take a stand
with Life where and as it actually happens, rather than emboldening the
This is the third way I've heard "So What?!".
The next time you're gabbing about, absorbed in, trapped
in, futzing with the
and a friend listening to you gab says "So what?!", they may be neither
invalidating you nor ridiculing you nor taunting you nor teasing you.
Rather, they may just be doing you a big favor.