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Welcome Meddleheads, to the column where your crazy meets my crazy! Please send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Right now. Not only will you immediately feel much better, you’ll also get some advice.
My brother can sometimes be quite judgmental of others. He is one of those aggressive atheists, who enjoys pointing out the hypocrisy of religion. Meanwhile, he considers himself an environmentalist because he has solar panels on his enormous house, but has worked his entire life for Big Oil. His work subsidized his solar panels, which he has the luxury of affording partly due to the subsidy and partly due to his massive income. I have thus far avoided pointing out his own hypocrisy to avoid bad blood, but I'm wondering if I should bring it up next time he warms up on his favorite topic. What would you advise?
Ready to Put a Hex On Mobil
The wise course here is to stick with good old Jesus (as quoted by Matthew): Judge not, lest ye be judged.
Then again, Jesus was an only child. He didn’t have a blowhard older brother who acted all sanctimonious while, at the same time, working for an industry that has the moral compass of a hyena.
Then again (again), the oil industry is only wildly popular because people really love the conveniences that oil affords. In fact, we love them so much that we’ve set up a society where the consumption of oil feels like a necessity. It’s not like Big Oil just tripped and landed on a gazillion dollars. We buy their crack.
I bring all this up not just to be a left-wing scold (though obviously, that’s most of the reason). I bring it up because we all contribute to the system whereby people like your brother get to march around announcing that they’re “environmentalists” because they buy some solar panels. The bar for decency and activism in this country is just incredibly low. Call it the Bumper Sticker effect. We honestly believe that announcing our good values, and making a few selective efforts to be less consumptive, makes us blameless. Your brother might be an extreme example. But in the big picture, he’s just one of the crowd.
And honestly, I wouldn’t give him a hard time.
For one thing, that’s what he wants.
He knows that his bragging gets under your skin. Heck, he’s your brother. He’s known it since he was 4-years-old. Don’t give him the pleasure of getting into an idiotic argument. Whatever short-term high you get from schooling him will fade.
Long before he was a rich jerk in a McMansion, he was your big bro.
And there’s another reason I’d avoid confronting him: he sounds sad, Hexy. Look at the way he behaves. He runs around judging people. He brags about his nobility. These aren’t the actions of a happy person. It sounds to me like he feels pretty awful about himself, like he’s his own worst punishment.
But he’s also something else, Hexy. He’s your flesh and blood. Long before he was a rich jerk in a McMansion, he was your big bro. I had one, too. And he was pretty mean to me. For years, I held this against him. Now that I have kids of my own, though, I can see how tough it is to be an older sibling, to have the love of your parents suddenly shifted to a younger, cuter sibling. It’s the kind of thing some people never quite recover from. They spend their lives trying to prove that they’re worthy of that undiluted love in which they once basked. How? By making lots of money, sitting in judgment of people, boasting about their solar panels.
So let me take this in the opposite direction. Rather than trying to show your brother up, I’d make a good faith effort to do just the opposite: to find the good in him, the vulnerable, the compassionate, even the wise. It’s always there, even when we try to hide it.
My own brother might have been cruel to me, but it was because he was suffering. And despite his efforts to push me away, I worshipped him. More than he’ll ever know, he pushed me to achieve and to find my passion in the world. I loved him as a kid and I still love him very much. I don’t say it enough, but it’s true. (I love you, Dave!) And when I can allow myself to feel that love, I feel better — more forgiving of myself as well as him.
So that’s my sermon today, Hexy: love thy brother for all his flaws and without judgment. He may not be able to return that love immediately. But he might eventually. What a blessing that would be.
Your little optimist,
Okay folks, now it's your turn. Did I get it right, or muck it up? Let me know in the comments section. And please do send your own question along, the more detailed the better. Even if I don't have a helpful response, chances are someone in the comments section will. Send your dilemmas via email.
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