You didn’t forget. You just didn’t care enough to remember.
Those were the wise words of my junior high math teacher. He said it all the time. In the context of forgotten homework, forgotten classroom routines, forgotten report cards and backpacks and lost pencils. He didn’t use it in a passive-aggressive way—which certainly could be done, and would be a mistake, given the power of the words when used without judgment or manipulative intent. Like Mr. Pim. “You didn’t forget.” (Insert gentle shrug.) “You just didn’t care enough to remember.”
It resonated with me because most of the time, he was exactly right. I knew, even then, early in my teens, that I’d never forgotten anything that really mattered to me. I had forgotten things I didn’t care about. In school, certainly, but in other stuff, too.
It’s about the value we place on things, and how that value establishes our priorities.
I grew to use the saying myself. In my twenties, I used it, together with tears and anguish, when a boyfriend forgot I needed him to attend an important staff gathering and he bought tickets for a country concert—with another woman. Who eventually became his girlfriend.
I used it in my thirties, when I myself was a middle school teacher, and wanted my students to evaluate their own academic priorities.
I have used it as a mother. I said it this morning, in fact. My son told me he’d forgotten to feed the cat. “It appears you didn’t care enough about this task to remember. How can we make your chores more of a priority for you?”
And I use this phrase in a constant conversation with myself. I have a lot of things to juggle every day, and there are a lot of ways to split my time. Sometimes, the things I have deemed less important become things I forget to do. They just slip my mind. Yet, when I don’t take care of those things, I sometimes come off as scattered and flighty. Like I can’t remember stuff.
But there’s a dirty dark secret about some parts of my job. I should care about every aspect, but I don’t. I can’t.
An example: I don’t really care about our monthly custodial inspections. That’s when one of our directors comes out to our school and walks around the building with the custodian and I (“white gloving,” they call it). We look at every surface in the building. We follow a checklist and assign a score to classrooms, restrooms, windows, desks, small-group meeting space, the library, the gym, and every other nook and cranny in the building. These inspections are valuable in many ways: they give us a standardized score for how our custodians are maintaining our school; they give us specific areas to celebrate and specific areas to grow; and they keep us accountable and focused. But the inspection itself? Mind-numbing. When I tag along, like I’m supposed to do, I look at my watch approximately five times a minute.
To be clear: I care very much about our custodians, and about having a clean school, and about accountability and assessment and comparing scores and goals and all of that. I do. I just don’t care about the white-glove inspection. Give me the scoresheet at the end of the daggone thing, and I’m good.
But that’s not what I’m paid to do. I’m paid to participate in such things. I’m paid to make them a priority.
So: How do I attend to things I don’t care about? How do I make sure I remember the things I need to remember? I’ll share some specific ideas next week. See you then!