Many of us live by an unspoken code. I certainly do. In fact, to speak about it like I’m about to do is to break the code.
No one breaks the code.
Keeping the code keeps us safe, but to break it is dangerous and deadly.
But for you, I will break the code.
The code is simple. I will live my life quietly and peacefully, and I will leave you alone to live your life. I will ignore you, and you will ignore me, and this is how we will maintain peace. We will avoid arguments and disagreements and general unpleasantness by being completely, totally indifferent to one another.
And it will be good.
That’s the main premise of the Indifference Code—that life’s goodness is really all about being left alone, unbothered, unnoticed, and shame on the person who makes too much noise and breaks the reverie of the self-interested calm we work so hard to maintain.
The Indifference Code is so widespread that you can see it anywhere you go. To a bar, to a restaurant, to a sporting event. Most strangers ignore each other.
Even at sporting events, among supporters of the same team, the Indifference Code is the rule of thumb. At baseball games, it’s most obvious. Perhaps it’s because baseball is so relaxing anyway, but everyone sits back and ignores each other, except for their own friends and people they know.
At football games, it’s not as noticeable, because people are so pumped by the atmosphere of football—the tackles, the long runs, the brilliant catches. But the next time you’re at a game and you’re next to the heckler—that one guy who yells louder and drunker than anyone—tell me you don’t get annoyed beyond belief at him, even if you’re both cheering for the same team.
Because that dude broke the Indifference Code as his loudness encroached on your leave-me-alone enjoyment of the game.
Acknowledging that the Indifference Code exists is dangerous. We’ve convinced ourselves that to ignore each other is to live in harmony. To live in harmony means to live without conflict, and to live without conflict is to live safely.
Except what if it isn’t?
What if safety isn’t all it’s cracked up to be? I’m not saying we should walk around and pick fights with strangers. But what if we stopped feigning indifference and took the time to actually engage with the people around us?
I recently moved back to Atlanta, GA. Last weekend I got to go to my first Major League Soccer game. Atlanta United is the MLS’s newest franchise, and Atlanta’s darling. The city loves this team, and the men who make it up are flourishing.
I’d never been to a professional soccer match before, so I didn’t really know what to expect, other than a healthy dose of the Indifference Code and hopefully a victory.
A victory I got, but the Indifference Code I did not.
“United” isn’t just in the team’s name. It’s a philosophy that the whole team lives by, and it’s obvious that the franchise expects its fans to live by it, too.
The first time Atlanta United scored, we all did our own private celebrating, as expected. But then something incredible happened. The guy in front of me—a stranger, by the way—turned around and high fived me. And then he high fived my friend. And then his friends turned around and high fived us, too.
And it happened every single time Atlanta United scored.
Never in my experience of sports events have I seen people break the Indifference Code and celebrate together.
It got me thinking: what if we all started living by a Unity Code instead of the Indifference Code? What if we started daring to acknowledge each other, celebrate each other, encourage each other?
I think we would be terrified.
But I also think we would fall in love with our lives again because we wouldn’t all be isolated, lonely, miserable people pretending we were safe because we were alone. We would start to rebuild the things that have become fragmented.
We could all do with a healthy dose of unity, and a reminder that people are pretty much all better and kinder than we expect them to be.
Let’s give the world the benefit of the doubt and see what happens.