A few weeks ago,
as I rode the tube from London to the countryside, I noticed a man get on who was nicely dressed from head to — well — ankle. He was kind of business-casual and everything seemed normal except for the fact that he was completely barefoot.
Instant intrigue on my part.
Being quite a flower child at heart myself, I was like, “Dude, this guy is legit. Look at him just go for it. What a way to live.”
Undeniably, I was a little jealous of his naked feet.
Like everybody else around him, I tried not to stare and simply pretended not to notice; but I was squirming with curiosity. There had to be a fascinating reason why he’d brave the harsh, nastiness of the London underground without at least the protection of a pair of flipflops.
At first I couldn’t bring myself to break through the conformity of social shyness to ask him about it; but then I remembered that I’m in my twenties and life is short and I’m the gatekeeper of my own destiny; and I decided there was no way I was stepping off that train without getting an answer.
So I leaned over.
“Uh, hello. Excuse me. Hi there. Um. Why are you barefoot?”
He kind of half smiled, half grimaced and said, “Just for fun.”
“Ah, okay. Cool.” I blended back into the “pretend-not-to-notice” crowd.
It just wasn’t good enough for me though.
I leaned over again. “So, uh, do you do this often?”
“Huh. So you just spontaneously woke up today and decided not to put your shoes on?”
Then his wife turned to me and said, “He’s having a mid-life crisis.”
I can’t say I was fully convinced by any of this. There seemed to be more behind it; but how far does one push in these scenarios, right?
Just before my stop, I said, “Sir, would you be offended if I took a picture of your feet?”
He said, “Yes.”
“Yes, you would be offended?”
We both laughed awkwardly and pretended not to feel uncomfortable.
And of course, we ended up getting off at the same stop.
Unique Is Interesting
A couple weeks after that, as I was walking along the ocean shore in Broadstairs (barefoot, of course,) I found myself contemplating the thin line between being confidently yourself regardless of popular opinion, and striving to be interesting for the sake of significance.
Okay, maybe another way of putting it would be knowing you’re awesome and living that out without a need for human affirmation, versus seeking the direct or indirect recognition of society by standing out from the crowd.
Perhaps that was just as confusing; but what I’m trying to unearth is how it often seems we have that natural impulse to be defined by being different, to be distinguished by being interesting. That tendency to find a sense of significance by being noticed, because being noticed feels like being valued.
It comes out subliminally in the colour of our clothing, or the way we choose to speak, or the stories we tell other people about ourselves. Maybe those things are true to who we are, but maybe sometimes the underlying motivation is slightly scented with the desire for just a little bit more self worth.
You wouldn’t put it in these words, but the subconscious thought sounds like, “I’m that guy who looks like this. I’m known by that. That’s how I’m recognisable to the world.”
Of course then we also take on this air of nonchalance, convincing ourselves and everybody else that we’re not doing it on purpose — that we don’t even notice.
Nonetheless, we already know an identity constructed on your perception of other people’s perception of you is quite crumbly.
Or maybe I’m the only one who’s ever done that. Who’s to say?
Either way, I think it’s a backwards mentality.
You don’t need to do something to mean something.
We’re all already intrinsically valuable.
I’d say that letting the way we live come from a value we know we already have makes us more beautiful and unique and interesting anyway.
And like all healthy things, there’s a balance to it. If you’re well aware of your own worth, then you’re more free to be crazy and audacious and outrageous, because you aren’t so molded or driven by the world’s opinion.
I’ll give the final touch with one of my favourite quotes:
The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow Roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.”