The other night while I was doing the sort of chores that tend to make my mind wander, I found myself asking what I would do if I was absolutely indifferent to what other people thought of me in my daily life offline. How would my life be different?
I know everybody likes to claim that they don't care what anybody thinks of them, but I think we're mostly lying to ourselves when we say this. I've only known a few people who I think could come close to making this claim, and I've never been one of them. I don't care what others think of me nearly as much as I used to, but I can't claim not to care at all. What surprised me is that being completely open about my atheism was not the first thing that came to mind when I thought about what might be different. In fact, it wasn't even one of the top few!
So what would be different if I didn't care what anybody thought of me? For starters, I'd probably buy the car pictured here with the biggest engine I could afford and an aftermarket exhaust. I'd drive it like I stole it, proudly refer to it as my mid-life crisis vehicle, and pay no attention to those who found it ridiculous or ecologically unfriendly. Why? Because I like it and think it would be great fun. And if I really didn't care what anybody else thought, that would be enough.
I'd wear clothes that were comfortable and that I liked no matter what others thought. To some degree, I already do this since I cannot pretend to have any sort of fashion sense or care about current trends. But if I really didn't care what others thought, I'd take it beyond what I do now. I'd almost never be seen without jeans or cargo shorts and a t-shirt from one of the many metal bands I like. And yes, there would be some shirts with pro-atheism or anti-religion messages mixed in for good measure. I probably couldn't get away with dressing like this at work everyday, but I'd do so whenever possible.
I'd probably get several tattoos, and I'd have them wherever on my body I wanted them. Chances are good that at least some of them would involve images that others would find offensive. Come to think of it, most of them would probably be considered offensive by some.
I'd try new things without worrying about failing miserably and looking
stupid in the process. I'm not sure exactly what this would involve, as I
can't think of anything I'd really like to do that I'm not doing
because I fear social disapproval. But I'm sure there are a few things
I'm just not thinking of at the moment.
In conversation with others, I'd be much more likely to speak my mind. I am not the sort to go around hurting others' feelings deliberately, so I don't see that changing much. For the most part, I refrain from this out of empathy for others and not because I fear their disapproval. But I'd certainly be less likely to hold my tongue in situations where I wanted to say something. The sort of social disapproval that is routinely used to restrict the free expression of ideas would have no impact, and I'd be far more honest in the sense that I'd tell someone what I really thought if they asked.
This brings us to the obvious downside of not caring what anybody thinks about you: it would almost guarantee that others would find one abrasive, overly blunt, and off-putting. And if I really operated like this, it would be impossible for me to hold on to my job. If I told my boss what I thought of him, I'm confident I'd be unemployed by the end of the day. I suspect this would be true not only in my current job but in most jobs in my field. I'm not sure how I'd be able to support myself. And so it is likely that any dream of being able to operate as if I didn't care what anybody thought of me and wholly unrestricted by social convention will have to wait until after I've retired. That doesn't mean I can't take steps in that direction now; it just means it would be unwise to take it too far.
How about you? If you didn't care what anybody thought of you, what would you do differently? And how does being more open about your atheism and/or thoughts about religion fit into it?
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