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“So what?” is a two word retort that, deployed properly in the correct instance, I’ve long considered to be perhaps the best rhetorical disarming maneuver available in the English language. Two words, two syllables, paired with the exact right combination of inquisitive cadence and matter-of-fact inflection, capable of sweeping an opponent’s most powerful thrust – even the killing blow! – aside with such casual confidence so as to leave them stumbling, stunned, bewildered at their inability to land the blow and (ideally) at a loss for what (if anything) they should do next.

The key, as with any good parry, is to wait them out and let them make what they are sure is their masterstroke – to “hit their finisher” in the parlance of combat sport: Give them the room to make their case, tell their story, argue their point and paint what they fundamentally believe is a vivid picture of not simply their own righteousness but your wrongness. Let them indict you. Let them brand you a villain and your goals malevolent. Let them construct the reality whereby you win the argument and all the world is ash as a result. Let them feel the presumptive stirrings of triumph in having so thoroughly proven you wanting. And then… “So what?”

In other words: “I’ve chosen to reject what you took as a given was the damning end of the argument, so elaborate on why what you just described is supposed to be bad – or bother me? Or bother someone else?” Used properly, there is terrifying power in the rejection of presumed standards, and though seemingly simple; the proper use of “So what?” requires two substantial strengths to execute: The ability to commit absolutely to the projection of certainty that you have no idea why what’s been suggested would be “all that bad” and a willingness to “own” at least the theoretical result you’re performing the possibility of comfort with.


It can, of course, be used for evil as well as good. Continue reading