Rico Gagliano: Each week you send in your questions about how to behave, and here to answer them this time around is Sarah Knight. She spent 15-odd years at a publishing day job, making other people’s writing smarter and funnier. And she’s just put out her own book with maybe the longest title ever. It is called, “The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving an F*CK: How to Stop Spending Time You Don’t Have with People You Don’t Like Doing Things You Don’t Want to Do.” We should note that we use the letter “F.” She uses the entire word, which rhymes with “luck.”
Sarah, welcome to the show.
Sarah Knight: Thank you for having me.
Brendan Francis Newnam: So, Sarah, your title, although too blue for public radio, shouldn’t come as a surprise to too many people. It’s a riff on the mega-bestseller, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by the Japanese organizing expert Marie Kondo. For those who haven’t decluttered our drawers, can you explain Kondo’s philosophy, in a nutshell, for us?
Sarah Knight: I can. She has a two-step method for decluttering. First, you discard things that do not bring you joy, and then you organize the things that you have left. So, my response to that is the “Not Sorry Method” for mental decluttering, where step one is: decide what you don’t give an “F” about; and step two is: stop giving an “F” about that thing.
Rico Gagliano: Right. In a way, that means you’re not a big believer in apologies.
Sarah Knight: I’m not a big believer in having to apologize. I don’t think you should behave badly, so that you don’t have to apologize.
What I am trying to help people realize is that you don’t have to cater to other people. And you can do it without becoming a jackass. The Not Sorry Method, if enacted with appropriate amounts of honesty and politeness, which I advocate for in the book, will leave you, in the end, after having made your decision — after having RSVP’d no to something, or declined to do a favor for a friend, or stepped out on a family commitment — it will leave you not sorry because you acted in an honest and polite manner.
Brendan Francis Newnam: So, some of the things that you personally don’t give an “F” about are CrossFit, Google Plus, pub quizzes, calculus, most Kickstarter projects. But, as a quick case study of how your system works, can you explain the polar bears and half-marathons idea?
Sarah Knight: I can do that. I don’t know about you, but I worked in a corporate office environment for 15 years. And people were always posting sign-up sheets, or sending group emails, or coming to my office door soliciting me for things. Usually this was on behalf of some endangered species, but also for, you know, half-marathons or 10Ks or 5Ks. And I definitely don’t want to give you $25.
So, as I say in the book, the one acceptable workplace solicitation is for Girl Scout Cookies. If you are a mom or dad, and you have children who have Girl Scout Cookies to sell, come to me.
Rico Gagliano: Yes! I think, actually, I would be the one soliciting people with kids to please sell me some Girl Scout Cookies.
Brendan Francis Newnam: It can work both ways.
Sarah Knight: It works both ways.
Rico Gagliano: OK. Good.
Sarah Knight: Indeed.
Rico Gagliano: All right, our listeners have a few situations of their own that they could use your help with. We hope you can summon the energy to give a “luck” about them. Are you ready for these?
Sarah Knight: I’ve been saving up my “Fs” for this.
Brendan Francis Newnam: Oh, great.
Running out of Fs for read receipts
Rico Gagliano: Here’s something from Lisa in Washington, D.C. Lisa writes: “When did it become acceptable to not acknowledge voicemails or emails? What’s next? Greeting someone in person only to be ignored? I have begun setting my email client to alert me when an email I’ve sent has been read.”
Sarah Knight: Lisa, I’ve got to tell you, first of all, I don’t think it is acceptable for people not to respond to voicemail and email unless you’re talking about unsolicited email from crazy people. Which I tend to put directly in my junk folder.
But way worse on the etiquette scale is setting a read receipt on your email. Whenever I get one of those, and it says, “So-and-so would like to mark ‘read’ on this email.” I, out of spite and out of concern for humankind in general, I will not agree to that.
Rico Gagliano: That’s right.
Sarah Knight: This is not a Big Brother situation. You do not need to know that I accidentally scrolled through my iPhone and touched your message, so it makes it look like it was read, but really I’m not ready to respond to it.
So, that’s really what I think you need to work on.
The “Not Sorry Method” to dieting and partying
Brendan Francis Newnam: All right, this next question comes from Rachel. She sent it via Instagram. Rachel wrote: “I’ve started a diet so I can look and feel good at my cousin’s wedding in the spring, but before that, I have some birthday parties, trips with friends, and catered work events to attend. What are discreet or polite ways to stick to my eating regimen without offending party hosts or looking lame?”
Sarah Knight: See, now, this is a perfect application of the “Not Sorry Method.”
Brendan Francis Newnam: Tell us.
Sarah Knight: The precursor to the “Not Sorry Method” is you have to stop giving an “F” about what other people think.So, you can’t control what other people think of you. All you can control is if you actively hurt their feelings, but you can’t control their opinions.
So, if they have an opinion of you being lame because you don’t want to eat their spinach artichoke dip, that’s really not your problem. You can’t control it. You don’t need to give an “F” about it.
And again, I advocate a combination of honesty and politeness. There’s a sliding scale in there. You know, you don’t want to be so honest that you’re rude. You don’t want to tell somebody that their spinach artichoke dip looks like snot.
Rico Gagliano: “How dare you put out the spinach artichoke dip? What are you trying to do to me?”
Sarah Knight: But I think it’s perfectly within your rights to say, “I’m prepping for a tight little bridesmaid gown,” or whatnot.
Brendan Francis Newnam: But in this instance, could you just not give an “F” about what you look like at your cousin’s wedding and eat whatever you want?
Sarah Knight: You could. On my personal top ten list of things that I don’t give an “F” about is having a bikini body.
Rico Gagliano: Exactly!
Sarah Knight: And I say in the book that the day I stopped giving an “F” about what I look like in a bathing suit, it was like a litter of kittens dressed in black leotards just came down from heaven and sang “All the Single Ladies” for the sole benefit of my thighs and belly.
Rico Gagliano: Is that good? That’s a good thing, right?
Sarah Knight: That’s a good thing.
Brendan Francis Newnam: Wow. All right, but I do have a side question here. Where does not giving an “F” end? You know, if you’re like, I don’t give an “F” about my cousin’s wedding and I don’t give… and then you’re just in some sad little not giving an “F” ball in a Slanket at your house slurping protein shakes out of a twirly straw.
Sarah Knight: That’s like, some college philosophy class question, right? For like, the final exam essay?
Brendan Francis Newnam: No, that sounds like college, what I just described.
Rico Gagliano: Yes, pretty much.
Brendan Francis Newnam: I’m talking about the real world.
Sarah Knight: I actually don’t advocate for zero “Fs” given. It’s a very popular hashtag, #zeroeffsgiven.
Brendan Francis Newnam: OK.
Sarah Knight: But I don’t think that anybody really is going to get to zero. And what I think you need is to give fewer, better “Fs.” So you need to budget what I call your time, energy, or money. Those are the “Fs” you have to spend. And you need to create a budget, and you apply those and spend them on things that make you happy. And if looking good in your cousin’s wedding makes you happy, then that’s where you should put your focus.
Brendan Francis Newnam: And for those joining us, every time Sarah says “F,” she means fuck, just so people know.
Sarah Knight: Oh, OK. Right, yeah.
Brendan Francis Newnam: Just wanted to get them up to speed. Go ahead.
Getting too attached to the boyfriends of a serial dater
Rico Gagliano: We’ve got one last question for you. This is from Jasmine in Venice, California, and Jasmine writes, “My friend is a serial dater. In the two years I’ve known her, she has described six men as ‘serious boyfriends.’ She gets serious within two weeks, and three to six months later, dumps them. The problem is I end up becoming friends with some of these guys, but she wants me to treat them like persona non grata when they’ve broken up. She’s one of my best friends, and I basically owe my career to her. How can I tell her not to introduce me to a guy until she’s sure they’ll last?”
Brendan Francis Newnam: A lot going on there!
Rico Gagliano: There is.
Sarah Knight: Yeah, this is…I think you need a therapist, not a radio etiquette call-in show but…
Rico Gagliano: But it’s all she’s got. Let’s…
Sarah Knight: I would say that if you no longer think it’s appropriate to spend your time and energy meeting these guys, then I think you can just say no on the front end. Or you can plead a headache. Or you can… You know, it’s OK to fib a little bit to protect somebody’s feelings.
Brendan Francis Newnam: But if your friend’s dating someone, it could be “the One,” and six months is a long time to not hang out with a friend and her…
Sarah Knight:Frankly, I think I know enough about her friend from this description that that lady is not walking down the aisle anytime soon, so I’m just going to leave that out there.
Brendan Francis Newnam: OK. Sarah Knight, thank you for — I think you took a moment to give an “F” to our audience here.
Sarah Knight: I did!
Brendan Francis Newnam: And we appreciate that.
Rico Gagliano: That was kind of you.
Sarah Knight: Well, you’re welcome.