Advice columnist Ann Landers often used a stock reply for letter writers she considered nosy.
MYOB, she'd say. Mind your own business.
Even when I was a boy, I liked that. It expressed my own attitude. I didn't care what anybody else did, so long as it didn't interfere — in an up-close, personal way — with me or with others who couldn't protect themselves.
Because I'm a minister, I occasionally encounter antagonistic folks who hope they'll get a rise out of me by calling attention to their private peccadilloes.
"I smoke pot," they'll say. "I think God created cannabis as a gift to man."
Or, "My wife and I are swingers."
Or, "I don't believe in God. Religion is a sop for the weak-minded."
I try to be polite and sort of waggle my head in a show of faux perplexity, because acting polite and giving satisfaction are implied in my job description.
In my heart, though, I'm thinking, "You can't imagine how little I care. On what grounds would I?"
If I don't care, it's not because I'm hard-hearted or that I believe all actions are equal in their moral or practical ramifications.
It's because what others do or say or think affects me not at all, unless they're building fertilizer bombs to set off in the mall or beating waifs or torturing small animals.
Those things are my business. And yours. And society's.
Otherwise, knock yourselves out, friends.
Smoke your shoe soles. Dress up in latex and leather. Worship goat cheese.
If you're an adult, do as you please with other consenting adults or while alone.
For instance, I can make no sense of the ongoing tattoo fad. There are even TV reality shows dedicated to the art of skin design.
Decorating your epidermis with ink violates an arcane Old Testament rule, but that's not my objection to it. Mainly, I think it shows bad judgment.
Whatever you tattoo on your face, leg or back today, you'll rue it in 10 years, when you're no longer crazy about Skylar or no longer a fan of unicorns or finally realize you can't read Chinese script and have no idea what your beer gut proclaims to your fellow beachgoers in ever-widening Mandarin characters.
Yet many of my family and friends, not to mention innumerable strangers, have seen fit to ink themselves from head to, well, places I don't want to know about.
Still, it's their skin. I try to remember that at all times. They're free to pursue their bliss as they desire; they're not robbing banks or maiming passersby.
Is your neighbor entertaining a strange woman while his wife is at work? How would you know if you weren't snooping half the day, peeking through your curtains and thinking up excuses to go to the mailbox four times?
Maybe the woman is his long-lost sister, separated from him by adoption when they were infants. Or yeah, maybe they're having an affair.
In either case, unless he or his wife confide in you, what affair is it of yours?
None, that's what. Not your house, not your problem.
Let the curtains be. Go read a book or do sit-ups or get therapy.
Somebody asked last week if I was horrified that gay marriage might become legal throughout the land.
Irrelevant to me, I said. None of my business.
I'm not gay. I'm already married, to a woman. I'm satisfied with her.
It doesn't affect my church, either.
Civil marriage isn't a church sacrament. It's a legal contract. You get a marriage license as you would a license to drive a car, hunt grouse or open a Wendy's.
Long ago, we decided as a culture that consenting adults aren't required to get my permission, or accept a church's tenets, before they can obtain a license to get hitched.
We decided that whom they married was their call.
Heck, if I were the marriage czar, I'd probably counsel half the straight couples I know to cancel their nuptials before they ever occur, on the grounds that one or both parties are broke, childish, narcissistic, degenerate gamblers, whatever.
But I can't do that, and I refuse to try. That's their challenge to figure out. We all take for granted that straight people can marry as their judgment dictates.
That being the case, even if I held moral or religious objections to people of the same sex being wed, why would I interfere with them, either?
Whether you're straight or gay, what impact does who you marry have on me? You're not making me live with her. Or him.
Yes, there are times we have no choice but to involve ourselves in others' decisions. If your adult child smokes so much dope he can't feed and clothe your grandchild, by all means intervene. His problem is now yours.
There just aren't as many of those times as we like to tell ourselves there are.
Largely we don't interfere because it's unavoidable.
We butt in because we get a charge out of being busybodies, or, more often, because poking into someone else's issues distracts us from facing our own.
And so, in closing, let me channel good old Ann one last time.
Wherever possible, friends, MYOB.
Paul Prather is the pastor of Bethesda Church near Mount Sterling. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.