I once saw a man driving on a busy road stop at a red light, leave their car, and walk to the car behind them. The other driver opened the window and they exchanged a few greetings. The first driver walked back to his car just in time for the light to turn green. They both drove on as though nothing happened. It’s even more impressive when you remember they did this during a global pandemic.

It was weird, and maybe a little unsafe. If I thought of trying this myself, I’d likely not since it’d seem too weird. I’d worry others would judge me as careless and an airhead. They’d never forget my face and would shake their heads slowly if I passed by. My face and name would go on lists. Companies would blacklist me for business and hiring. Future generations would write of my idiocy and…sorry, I’m getting carried away.

Then I remembered I saw someone do that exact thing and didn’t react that way at all. I was bemused for a few minutes, then my day went on. Simply put, I just didn’t care. If it wasn’t for me being a writer, or due to any number of thought control devices in my brain, I’d have forgotten it completely.

This whole moment is a nice reminder of the spotlight effect. We’re always the center of our world, which makes it hard to remember we’re not the center of anyone else’s world. This biases us to think everyone’s watching, analyzing, and criticizing us. But unless we draw attention to ourselves, people will barely notice. Even if they do, they’ll notice far fewer things about ourselves, if any at all, than we do.

Now and then you’ll find someone who notices more about you than most others. They’re either a great friend, a romantic partner or a mortal enemy. Try to find out which one as soon as possible, or things can get ugly.

The point is, I can be a lot less self-conscious than my brain tries to make me daily. Doing the occasional weird or stupid thing won’t harshly define me in another’s eyes forever.

And even if it does, that’s the kind of vindictive, petty, immature person I want nothing to do with. So cutting them out is no big loss.